A Former Waikīkī Hotel Worker Talks About the Moment the Pandemic Became Real to Her
After her hotel closed, Aina Iglesias started delivering food to make ends meet.
Editor’s Note: For our July issue of HONOLULU, we searched for stories from people all around O‘ahu about the moment COVID-19 became real to them. We spoke with a critical care nurse, care home operators, a mail carrier, a hotel worker who lost her job, a police captain and more back in April and May about the ways their lives at work and at home suddenly changed. Check back on honolulumagazine.com every week for a new story. Pick up the issue on newsstands in late June, subscribe or visit our online store.
Here’s the full version of Aina Iglesias’ story in her own words, as told to Robbie Dingeman. The 24-year-old from Kaimukī was a front desk agent and auditor for the Doubletree by Hilton Alana Waikīkī Beach Hotel until she was laid off in March.
When I heard the Japanese man that stayed at the Hilton Grand Vacations right across the street had the virus, it felt like it was closer to me, that we as workers could actually be affected. We also house a lot of Hilton Grand Vacations people so it was really scary. And then later on when the other hotels started closing, first the Prince, then the New Otani and then Hale Koa, I was even more scared because then there was a high possibility that my hotel would also close. I’ve been there for 2-and-a-half years. March 30 was my last day and then the hotel closed on the 31st.
I also block rooms for the hotel so I saw the arrivals, the percentage and occupancy rates decreasing every single day. They started getting rid of people who were lower seniority than me and then eventually we closed. It was really scary; it just went downhill. I was also working as a server at Scratch Kitchen until February [when] they also started getting slow there. I only worked part time on call.
I live in Kaimukī but I grew up in Mililani, where my parents still live. Fortunately, because my mom works for Walmart, she has a job. But her middle school cleaning job? She lost that. My dad is also unemployed but my sister moved back in with them from LA because she was scared that they were going to shut down the state and they did. So she’s actually helping my parents there and I’m also trying to help them a little bit. I’m still paying my rent and all the bills and my car registration just came up, too. So I’m having to pull money from my savings because the unemployment process is taking a long time. I filed maybe four weeks ago and I haven’t gotten anything. And the website is so frustrating. It’s so hard to log on. I live with my boyfriend and we’re fortunate that he’s still working, but it’s really difficult; my savings can only take me so far. If the hotel is closed for a whole year, I don’t think I’ll have enough savings to pay for that long.
Photo: Courtesy of Aina Iglesias
I also have been working with my former co-worker—she started cooking to sell food at farmers markets. I deliver food for her to people who ordered so I can get out of the house and also help her out as well, because she lost both of her jobs. She makes Korean side dishes and then she goes to the Kaka‘ako farmers market to sell them, and I pick them up and deliver just to make extra income during this time. When I go to pick up food, I make sure to buy from local farmers and businesses. Why would you want to support companies like McDonald’s right now that are doing completely fine when there are other people like local businesses who are struggling? I have a lot of friends who are also unemployed and so they’re doing side hustles. It’s not a lot. Every delivery week I probably only make $50 to $80 each Saturday. It’s just to buy groceries for the week.
I’m actually a powerlifter so I’ve been keeping up with my workouts. I bought some weights from a local fitness center so I’m able to keep up my training to keep myself busy.
There’s a lot of talk recently within the social media community in Hawai‘i about different forms of economy that we could have that emphasize agriculture instead of tourism. We don’t always have to rely on tourism to get our economy back up, and that’s coming from somebody who works in the hospitality industry!
My fear is if they reopen our tourism industry soon, would there be a second wave of coronavirus cases? Because people will just think that it’s over, it’s good to go, we can go on trips again and this thing would spread again. I work at the front desk so I interact with guests and we’re not 6 feet apart. When they check in, they’re right in front of me talking; a lot of them spit on my face when they talk! I hope that we slowly recover from this. I do want to go back to work. I will be going back to the hotel when this is over. It’s just, I’m scared.