Uncertainty surrounds Hawaii’s pending tourism reopening

Last week’s announcement of reopening Hawaii tourism starting October 15th with a negative pre-travel COVID-19 test result has mostly been met with optimism. Still, there’s a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the plans and the future of Hawaii tourism.

Hawaii’s testing plan needs more details.

Some important details of the pre-travel testing plan have been provided, such as

  • Travelers of all ages must pre-test.
  • Travelers are fully responsible for the costs of the tests.
  • Tests must be an FDA-authorized Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) performed by a CLIA certified lab.
  • Travelers are fully responsible for making sure they take the approved test.
  • Tests must be taken 72-hours prior to their trip to Hawaii.
  • If test results are not received in time, the traveler must quarantine in a hotel until a negative result arrives.
  • Check www.hawaiicovid19.com/travel for more details.

Hopefully, more details will be forthcoming. There are a few very important ones that we think need to be addressed:

  • How is the 72-hour window of testing defined? When does the clock start and stop on the 72-hour window?
  • How will time zones affect the 72-hour window?
  • What methods/forms are required to prove a negative COVID-19 test result?
  • How will children under the age of 12 get testing if the testing partners won’t test them?
  • How do international visitors fit into the initial reopening plan?

That’s just to name a few top questions. We’re sure even more will emerge over time.

Will Hawaii’s COVID-19 case counts be under control? 

Starting at the end of July, Hawaii had some pretty dramatic case count increases, particularly on Oahu. In August and early September, the healthcare system was on a path towards being overloaded. A partial inter-island travel quarantine was put into place. Oahu went on a second stay-at-home order, which is due to expire this week, but may be continue to some fashion.

In the last couple of weeks, case counts have come down to more manageable levels and appear to be keeping on a downward trend. Hopefully, it will stay that way.

With all that said, let’s put “high” case counts in perspective. So far, less than 1% of Hawaii’s population has contracted COVID-19.

What local restrictions will be in effect?

There have been some recent limitations on beaches, parks and trails, particularly on Oahu. These strict measures were put into place due to spiking case numbers on Oahu.

Social distancing and face coverings are required in most businesses and public spaces throughout the Hawaiian islands. For further information, see this page for current guidance in Hawaii.

Restrictions vary by island/county. They’ve also been changing to meet the needs of the times. On this page, we’ve linked to all the Hawaii county pages. Check the county pages for up-to-date information on their current restrictions.

What will and won’t be open in Hawaii?

Oh boy, that’s a million-dollar question!

Some shops, restaurants, tours and attractions have been shuttered for months. Some may reopen right away. Some may need to wait for enough visitors to return to the islands to justify reopening.

In this article by the Star-Advertiser, Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii says, “We’ve been told that a little more than half of Hawaii’s businesses can’t reopen until tourism does.”

This Maui News article provides a little bit of insight into what decisions tour companies have been and will be facing.

Sadly some businesses have already had to close permanently. Last week, the Star-Advertiser published a list of over 50 Hawaii restaurants that are permanently closed. Per Hawaii News Now, Hawaii has the nation’s highest rates of businesses that are closed now or for good.

Some hotels are saying they’ll reopen in October. Others are waiting until November and December.

How many people will actually visit Hawaii?

That’s yet another million dollar question. Travel, in generally, is down significantly — not just in Hawaii, but everywhere. There are less flights and people have less disposable income. On top of that, people fear catching COVID-19 while traveling.

Prior to COVID-19, Hawaii averaged between 30,000 to 35,000 daily arrivals. We’ve heard some officials saying that 5,000 per day may be optimistic in the beginning.

Per our analysis last year, of Hawaii’s visitor arrival data, October is one of the least-visited months. November is not far behind. Here’s the chart we created for that article.

So, if you’re looking for peace and quiet, this coming October and November should be very, very nice.

How welcome will visitors be?

It pains us to have to write this section, but we have to be honest with concerns. As we’ve said before, we give our readers the very same advice we’d give to our family and friends. If either had plans to go to Hawaii upon re-opening, we’d tell them to be hopeful, but cautious.

There will most certainly be businesses who will thrilled to welcome visitors with the aloha spirit that Hawaii’s known for. We would expect customer-facing employees to be pleasant. It’s the interactions with others that may, and we emphasis may, not be as amiable.

Visitors have generally been vilified since the start of this pandemic. Per a Hawaii News Now story on March 21, Hawaii Department of Health officials worried that visitors were being unfairly blamed. At the time, over 86% of the cases were brought to the islands by residents who traveled outside the state and started community spread. Despite the worries from the DOH back in March, Hawaii has done nothing to better educate Hawaii residents that visitors are the least to blame. Our guess is that it’s easy to blame outsiders.

We’ve seen numerous comments blaming Hawaii’s virus spread on visitors and causing lockdowns and unemployment. Even the state’s largest newspaper published a harsh editorial column saying, “Tourism made us sick.”

The ire aimed at visitors has not been helped by the selfish quarantine breakers who came to Hawaii and shirked the rules. Through mid-July nearly 200 people had been arrested for breaking quarantine. We’ve not seen a more recent update on that number.  A volunteer group formed to help catch them. Here’s just one of several stories about trying to catch quarantine breakers and, here’s just one of several stories of quarantine breakers caught and arrested.

To complete this particular topic, it should be noted that Hawaii has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Typically, with unemployment, crime increases. Visitors could possibly be targets of crime. So, if you are going to Hawaii, it’s important that you never leave valuables unattended in your rental car or otherwise unsecured.

Will officials move the date again?

The opening date of the pre-travel testing program was originally due to start on August 1, then moved to September 1, then moved to October 1 at the earliest. Will the October 15 opening date stay firm? We hope so!

As you can see, many questions linger. We’re all navigating through uncertainty right now. So, how do you feel about traveling to Hawaii when it opens? Are you ready to hit the beautiful beaches or are you going to wait and see?

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