Hotel analyst and consultant Vikram Singh has spent more than two decades in various positions in the hospitality industry. His career began in India with the Taj group of hotels, resorts and palaces, before moving to San Francisco to work in operations and revenue management for Pan Pacific Hotels & Resorts. He later worked for investment firms, leading revenue strategies for hotel portfolios around the world. In 2018, Singh went on his own and created an eponymous hotel consulting firm on the island of Hawaii. Acting hotel editor Tovin Lapan spoke with Singh about the ups and downs of Aloha state’s tourism industry during the pandemic.
Question: As Hawaii handled an increase in Covid-19 cases in August, Governor David Ige discouraged tourism before welcoming visitors again in early November. What was this period for hospitality?
A: When Ige made this announcement in August, it really took tourism away from it all. After that, we had the biggest day of cancellations for Hawaii on Expedia since the pandemic began. So that decimated the pace and buildup of summer. In September and October, hotels were just trying to stay afloat.
The problem was that the announcement of the reopening fizzled out. It did not garner the same national media attention as the “Don’t Come” ad. And now we have to rebuild that momentum that has been lost.
Question: Which markets are you monitoring more closely to inform your forecast for Hawaii?
A: Hawaii is supported by two very large markets, our bread and our butter, the United States and Japan. Waikiki in particular, and Oahu more generally, is particularly dependent on the Japanese market, which accounts for a quarter of all visitors to the island.
Australia and New Zealand have really recovered in recent years. It makes sense, this is the halfway point to fly to the mainland. Travelers can rest for a few days in Hawaii and not make the 18 hour flight all at once. Hawaii has become a popular stopover destination for Australians.
Question: What’s your best guess as to when Hawaii will start seeing significant international tourism again?
A: International travel was expected to return earlier this year until the summer soar. It really made Australia dizzy, and Japan is not coping well with it all. Hawaiian Airlines recently announced the restart of its service from Honolulu to Sydney in December, so that’s a good sign.
I have the Japan Times in my favorites because I check it daily to keep up to date with when Japan changes its policies. I think they’re going to ease some restrictions soon, but I don’t anticipate a big rush in the first trimester. Winter is a big question mark, as some scientists predict an increase in Covid-19. So at least until we get past this uncertain period of a possible winter push, I don’t see much of a change with Japan. When Golden Week arrives at the end of April, then we might see a significant influx of people from Japan eager to travel.
Question: What are you looking for in the hotel industry in 2022?
A: I think we should be prepared to see a lot more families traveling with children, especially here in Hawaii. Until now, most children were not vaccinated. This is largely why many families had not yet hit the road. Hotels must prepare for it and hire for a busy 2022.
The other thing is that sustainable travel is important and growing. More and more people are asking: “When I travel, what footprint do I leave? Sustainable programs are the talk of the city, and hotels that can adapt to demand will find new customers.