A 150-person luau sparks frustration for businesses still hobbled by COVID restrictions

Businesses say Oahu’s tiered reopening system is sending confusing mixed messages

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii businesses that are anxious to get busy again are complaining enforcement of pandemic rules is sending confusing mixed messages.

One case in point that’s raising many eyebrows: A Waikiki resort was allowed to host a luau Friday with 150 patrons in one of its ballrooms while businesses who cater events wonder why they’re shut down.

“We’ve been asking for a review,” said wedding planner Taryn Magalianes.

“We’ve been asking them to look at the tiers and to look at us.”

The wedding planner says she’s puzzled how the city would allow 150 people attend the indoor luau and at the same time have a 10-person cap on all weddings.

She noted that when you compare Friday’s luau at the Hilton Hawaiian Village to a wedding you’ll find they share a lot of similarities. Both have food, music and dancing.

In a statement Hilton Hawaiian Village said:

“Hilton Hawaiian Village’s Waikiki Starlight Luau is following approved indoor and outdoor restaurant guidelines under Tier 3 of Oahu’s reopening strategy. Hilton Hawaiian Village remains in contact with city and state authorities on an ongoing basis to determine if and when any adjustments need to be made to its restaurants/dining establishments.”

Magalianes called what’s happening a double standard.

“Furious is really the word,” she said. “We’re trying to get back to work as well.”

Tina Yamaki, president of Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said the state is at a different place than it was when the Tier system was created. And that it’s time the guidelines get an overhaul.

“With the old mayor when the tiers were made, we really didn’t have a lot of input in it,” Yamaki said. “It was like these are the tiers let me introduce you to them.”

She says rules regarding reopening aren’t the only thing confusing members of Hawaii’s workforce, saying more clarity’s needed on who’s eligible for the vaccine and why.

“Some of our retailers are able to get the shots where others are not,” Yamaki said. “So the question now becomes how come they get it and we don’t.”

With no relief in sight, small business owners like Magalianes struggle to stay afloat.

“We need to get back to work. It’s been a year,” she said. “We can’t survive any longer on any of this PUA or PPP or any of that. That’s not going to do it for another year.”

When asked to comment on Honolulu’s reopening strategy, the state Department of Health repeated the same statement it sent earlier, saying, “A gathering of 150 people eating indoors is a bad idea.”

The agency didn’t say whether they plan to do anything about it.

After this story aired, the mayor’s office provided the following statement on the situation:

While the city appreciates and recognizes wedding celebrations are important landmarks for families and couples, weddings are social gatherings where large groups of people eat, drink, mingle and dance with people outside of their household and participate in activities that bring people within close proximity to one another for extended periods of time, which increases the risk of exposure and spread of COVID-19.

The city continues its coordination with the State, however both sides agreed large weddings will not be part of the Tier 3 reopening strategy at this time.

Newlyweds are encouraged to celebrate their important day consistent with the City’s Tier 3 framework in gatherings of no more than 10 people.

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