A letter to Governor Ige
Updated: Jun 30
A few weeks ago, I was asked to make a video asking Governor Ige to lift the 14-day quarantine for travelers entering the State of Hawai'i (in response to Covid-19). This was the message I offered instead.
Aloha, my name is Morea Somaoang and I was born and raised on the island of Maui. I have been a senior event manager at the Wailea Beach Resort for just over a year. Prior to that I worked in event sales at Envisions Creative Event Production, a local Maui company.
I was furloughed on March 20th and have been paying close attention to the development of Covid-19 locally, nationally, and globally ever since. I first realized how serious the pandemic would become economically when my groups started to cancel, and March, April, and May went from being my busiest months of my year to having zero events on the books. Huge corporations willing to take tens of thousands in losses rather than risk the health of their employees or take liability if someone did get sick on a work trip, was my wake up call.
Initially, getting my finances in order for not having regular income and waiting for my unemployment claim to get processed was very stressful. I spent many days thinking of contingency plans for if the time came that I could no longer afford to live in Hawaii. And as a local girl that hit very hard; that I may not be able to choose, but could be forced out of my home state. It took a long time to get in control of that fear.
The thing that finally gave me hope for the future was reimagining what Hawaii could be like after this. And I will say that am grateful to have had enough time away to reprioritize and remember what’s important. Since we had effectively halted tourism for the sake of our community’s health and at the expense of our economy, I feel like anything is possible to return Hawaii to being a great place to actually live for kama’aina. I’ve had a lot of time to 1listen to what my friends and family were feeling and saying and to think on that critically and to come up with ideas. I know it is unrealistic to never bring tourism back to Hawaii, and to be clear that’s definitely not where I stand, but I am not alone when I say that I don’t want Hawaii to go back to what it was. I know that we can do better than that.
I think steps have been made in the right direction, like Lt. Gov Green’s Travel with Aloha initiative, because it asks for accountability from our tourists. And I have heard great suggestions from others in the community, like having the airlines play an educational video on the ride over, to educate visitors on things like not touching sea turtles or crowding monk seals, what kapu means, and how reef-safe sunscreen is essential, among other things. I remember similar videos being played on planes when I was a kid, but were less so an opportunity to educate and more so a means of showing off Hawaii’s natural beauty, something that is threatened by our tourism industry daily. These initiatives reinforce that Aloha is an exchange, that it can’t be bought or taken advantage of.
It’s our responsibility to educate tourists and ask for this accountability from them, because we can’t expect them to inherently know what to do and how to act. And who will do it if not us. It’s a way for us to shift our feelings of tourism being the necessary evil that we all just bear, to something that we feel good about deep down because we are honoring our community and our culture. I have spent a lot of time thinking of ways to equip our people for being able to effectively communicate these things as well.
So while I’m ready to get back to work, because I’m more inspired than ever, I don’t think its for me to say when the state needs to reopen. I will say that we’ve had the time to think and we’ve had the necessary conversations and brainstorming sessions, and we are looking to do better. And I will say that we will be looking to our leaders and legislators for support in doing this. Because now, if we look on the bright side of Covid-19, we know that it is possible and that we are more powerful than we ever had time to recognize. My team at Wailea Beach Resort is comprised of thoughtful individuals who care a lot about the work that we do. So all I ask is that you hear our thoughts and collaborate with us and other hospitality professionals on reopening of Hawaii’s biggest industry. Mahalo for your time.