Looking forward to welcoming visitors back, safely and soon
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has disrupted Maui’s economy: thousands still find themselves out of work almost six months after shutting down without the ability to welcome travelers to our island. I see the difficulties many are facing, for example, at Lahaina Baptist Church where I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer this summer. The line of cars — 800 to 1,000 families — waiting two hours to receive a box of food gets a little longer each week. Many members of those families were housekeepers, maintenance staff, and various members of the travel and restaurant industries. The Maui civilian unemployment rate is today over 50 percent and worse yet in West Maui; Maui is eager to get back to work.
While we’ve been enjoying the quiet island over the last several months, it is apparent that our economy needs to begin to welcome travelers to our community again, and the professional vacation rental management industry stands ready to be a responsible partner for safe reopening.
To promote a reopening that emphasizes safety and economic recovery, I have joined forces with fellow Maui professional property management companies to form a new coalition called PRMA, the Professional Rental Management Association, a trade council of the Maui Chamber of Commerce. Together, our members represent more than 1,600 legally zoned condominium vacation rental units throughout Maui employing hundreds of local residents as well as contract vendors. Many of my colleagues and I have been in business a long time, some for more than 40 years.
Our coalition has adopted the cleanliness guidelines of the Vacation Rental Housekeeping Professionals, and best practices from other organizations like the Vacation Rental Management Association, VRBO and the Hawai’i Lodging and Tourism Association. The steps we are taking include focusing on deep cleaning high-touch surfaces with disinfectants approved by the CDC, the use of PPE by cleaning staff at all times, allowing ample time between guest check-ins for cleaning and direct to property check-in with remote registration. These efforts are important to keeping our visitors, our employees, and our island safe.
The Maui vacation rental industry is centered on our local community. Coconut Condos, and other members of PRMA focus on giving back to our local community through organizations like Women Helping Women, Maui Rescue Mission, Habitat for Humanity, A Cup of Cold Water and Feed My Sheep. We also work hard to ensure that the income from our properties is reinvested in the local economy. For example, Coconut Condos purchases marketing materials from Williams and Associates, a local Lahaina provider, our bedding is designed in West Maui by Maka Sea and we utilize Malie bath products in our condos which is a company based on the island of Kauai.
I think about the hundreds of families that have waited in line at Lahaina Baptist Church these past 24 weeks and how important tourism is to our way of life in West Maui. Not only are these individuals employed by the businesses, restaurants, tour operators, and accommodations that serve tourists, but the tax revenue generated by travelers’ funds is essential to the social services that benefit the entire community. Legal vacation rentals like those operated by our condo coalition help keep visitor dollars within our communities — and, as guests are typically looking for a more authentic experience, give patronage to locally-owned restaurants, bars, and shops. Legally zoned vacation rentals have been for decades and continue to be an integral part of the Maui economy. We know that many travelers now may prefer short-term rental accommodations due to the ability to more easily socially distance and visitors may even now book longer stays on the island, with the increased potential to work remotely resulting from the pandemic.
I am thankful to be a part of the West Maui community. I feel so blessed to be able to give back and re-invest locally through my vacation rental business. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted so much of Maui life, but my PRMA colleagues and I look forward to welcoming visitors again, safely and soon.
* Angela Leone is president of the Professional Rental Management Association, a trade council of the Maui Chamber of Commerce. She is also CEO of Coconut Condos and the 2019 recipient of the Maui County Small Business Person of the Year Award.