Whale-watching activity in Hawaii survives pandemic: Travel Weekly

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Tovin Lapp

Richard Holland practiced rolling with the punches a lot during his 20 years running Oahu-based tour operator And You Creations, so when the Covid-19 pandemic hit he was ready for the punches. thanks who would decide the difference between staying in business and folding.

In 1999, he took over Dolphins and You, a bed and breakfast on the west coast of Oahu that included kayak tours to see dolphins. Holland was to run the operation, while an investor from the continental United States who liked the bed and breakfast actually paid the money to buy the company from the founder. But the investor quickly changed his mind and walked away with the property three months after the deal closed. He told Holland he could keep the client name and mailing list.

Undeterred, Holland stayed in a “cabin” near the B&B during the week so he could continue arranging kayak tours from Makaha Beach Park, returning to Maui on the weekends to see his family. . Holland’s wife is from Japan and he speaks Japanese, so he started reaching out in Waikiki to tourists from the Pacific country. Soon he grew from three kayaks to over a dozen to keep up with demand.

“It just took off,” he said. “One way or another, we have established ourselves in this market, and Japanese tourists have kept coming.”

Holland did not have a permit to run the business outside the park, and the sudden increase in visitor numbers caught the attention of the community. He managed to get a special use permit to launch the kayaks from the beach park, but after a year it was not renewed.

So he pivoted again, buying a boat from a fisherman who was looking to retire.

“I thought we were going to close,” Holland said. “But this fisherman knocked on our door and changed everything. We built a kayak rack in the back of the boat and we launched from the boat. All of this has its own life force. Whenever we think that we’re down and out, something’s keeping us afloat.”

Eventually, the company branched out to include two custom boats and offered a variety of tours, including a Manoa Falls walking tour and a circular tour of the island of Oahu, and the name changed from Dolphins and You at And You Creations. But when Hawaii began to reopen to tourism in late 2020, pandemic restrictions limited tour capacity and halted travel from Japan, at that time the source of half of the company’s customers. Holland again looked to get creative rather than cash in.

Around this time, he had brought his son Shanti into the business, who had gradually risen through the ranks from tour guide to director and now president of the business. Holland asked his son for ideas as tourists flocked to Aloha State in early 2021. “A rave,” Shanti said.

T1108WAIKKIBOAT_C_HR [Credit: Courtesy of And You Creations]

Coming out of the pandemic, And You Creations launched a Waikiki sunset cruise dubbed Ocean and You that sold out in the spring and summer. Photo credit: Courtesy of And You Creations

So they launched a party cruise in Waikiki called Ocean and You, a sunset excursion with a DJ for up to 55 people on a boat equipped with an elaborate sound and light system.

“In March we were bombed,” said Richard Holland. “It was all revenge tourism people – they were pissed off after being locked down for a year and they went crazy. We sold out months in advance.”

Now that the party cruise business is winding down in the fall, And You Creations is gearing up to launch its newest tour to keep the momentum going.

On December 1, the company will begin its first whale watching excursion, naturally called Whales and You, which will include a naturalist on board. Guests will be able to listen to whale calls via an underwater microphone, and there will be a hula show.

“Once the whale season ends in April, we plan to start doing a turtle-watching and snorkeling tour,” he said, referring to the natural migratory pattern of humpback whales that brings them from the west coast of North America to Hawaii for the winter month.

Even the company’s flagship product that started the business, dolphin swim tours, has had to adapt to changing times.

In September, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced new rules prohibiting swimming with Hawaiian spinner dolphins near shore.

“We were ready for the changes,” Holland said. “We’ve seen this coming for years and knew it would eventually come to pass. When we built our own boat, we also made it good for viewing, so we could easily go from swimming to viewing. We have waterslides, kayaks and other amenities on the boat, and in some ways that has expanded our customer base. With swimming, the funnel was narrow, and now with viewing, mom and dad, grandpa and grandma, anyone can come.

Under the new regulations, it is still permitted to swim with dolphins beyond two nautical miles offshore. Holland said he is experimenting with charter tours for the warmer months when the ocean is generally calmer, allowing him to take small groups swimming with dolphins. And, as before, what initially looked like a blow to the company turned into a positive.

“Out there further offshore, we experience things we’ve never experienced before, like encountering pilot whales,” he said. “We saw a pod of 400 spotted dolphins two days ago. They’re big and don’t really go into shallow water. It was really cool.”

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