Demand increasing for help from Visitor Aloha Society

Michael and Merle Ross, first-time visitors from Canada celebrating their fifth anniversary, were in the middle of a tour when they got a text telling them to shelter in place because the Honolulu Police Department was dealing with a barricaded suspect at the Aston Waikiki Sunset, where they were staying.

The incident was ongoing when the couple returned to their hotel, and they were among the more than 250 people who were evacuated from the scene Jan. 30 by the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, a nonprofit that helps visitors in crisis. The Rosses and other visitors were taken to one of VASH’s partners, the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, and offered temporary shelter in a ballroom along with electronic chargers, blankets, pillows, food and drink.


It was about 12 hours before police took into custody the man who had barricaded himself in a hotel room and had allegedly confronted an employee with what appeared to be a knife. The case ended without injuries, and visitors like the Rosses were provided transportation back to their hotel in the wee morning hours.

Since returning home, Michael Ross said he has shared the story of “a SWAT team showing up at my hotel in Hawaii” with just about everybody since “it is in the news and we were there.”

Luckily for the Rosses and the reputation of Hawaii’s visitor industry, their story ended happily.

“It’s a testament to (VASH and their partners) because it has the most happy ending you could get,” Michael Ross said. HPD “got the poor fellow out of there, and he didn’t do any harm to himself or others.”

In 2023, Rich said, VASH handled 543 cases and 1,416 visitors, and early into 2024 the number of incidents is higher.

“VASH started out the 2024 year assisting 392 visitors during the month of January,” Rich said. “This is more than double what our monthly statistic is, which averages anywhere from 120 to 150 visitors per month.”

Cases have ranged from mass shooter and barricade situations in Waikiki to crimes against visitors, water safety issues and other accidents, missing-person cases and health incidents, including deaths.

Since VASH receives most of its money from the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, Rich has requested to address the HTA board at an upcoming meeting to discuss investment in safety and security needs.

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