With just one day remaining before Hawaii’s visitor industry restart, state officials are providing more clarity about post-travel COVID-19 test requirements trans-Pacific travelers will encounter after arriving in the islands. But trying to understand the disparate plans now approved for the state’s four counties may be a headache for many travelers.
“I’m pleased that my ongoing discussions with the mayors allowed us to agree that the pre-travel testing program will be implemented in all counties,” Hawaii Governor David Ige said Tuesday, Oct. 13, during a press conference in Honolulu. “This allows travelers to bypass the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine with a negative pre-travel test.”
Ige also said on Tuesday Kauai and Maui have established voluntary post-travel COVID-19 test programs that will work in conjunction with the state’s pretest plan, which is set to begin Oct. 15. Visitors vacationing on the island of Hawaii will, however, be subject to a mandatory virus test at the airport.
“Hawaii Island will require an antigen test for all arriving trans-Pacific travelers who are participating in the pre-travel testing program,” Ige said.
Kirk Caldwell, mayor of the city and county of Honolulu, said in a statement Tuesday he supported the governor’s pretest plan, and for now, visitors arriving on Oahu will not face any county-operated post-travel tests. But Caldwell did indicate he is a fan of the “random surveillance testing” component in the governor’s statewide plan, conducted four days after arrival on 10% of visitors and residents who undergo pre-travel tests before flying to Hawaii.
“This surveillance testing program is essential to know how many positive cases are coming into our state and not being picked up by the state’s pre-test program,” Caldwell said.
In a statement discussing Ige’s decision Tuesday to extend the pre-travel COVID-19 test plan to inter-county travel between Kauai, Oahu and Maui County, Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami acknowledged the ambiguity within Hawaii’s passenger entry programs.
“Right now, there is a lot of confusion on the protocols for trans-Pacific versus interisland travel, and various testing options,” Kawakami said. “Travelers are also confused on whether they must follow the state or counties’ protocols, and at this point, we need consistency and equity.”
Right now, there is a lot of confusion on the protocols for trans-Pacific versus interisland travel, and various testing options.
A Kauai mayor’s office spokesperson said Tuesday Kawakami’s administration is finalizing details of its post-arrival test program that would incentivize trans-Pacific Garden Isle visitors to voluntarily take a second COVID-19 test no sooner than 72 hours after arrival.
Maui County’s voluntary post-travel tests for trans-Pacific visitors would also be administered three days after they arrive and feature perks for participants, including a rewards card providing discounts at “hundreds of participating local vendors,” according to information on the Maui County website.
“We have been working with the visitor industry and hotels on implementing designated, on-site testing locations,” the Maui County site also said.
Meanwhile, Hawaii Island Mayor Harry Kim said Monday the destination’s mandatory post-travel exams will take place at a former rental car facility just outside the airport near Kailua-Kona. The antigen tests will not cost visitors anything, and results will be available in 15 to 30 minutes, according to Kim.
“If you pass that test, you’ll be able to travel wherever here on the island,” he said Monday. “If you do not, you’ll be quarantined until we will give you another test — a PCR test — and then you’ll be quarantined until that test result is known.”
Ige said Tuesday each of the Hawaiian Islands faces different challenges, noting “the ICU beds are 88% utilized in Hawaii County, and that’s a big concern of the mayor.”
We will make decisions to roll back things if necessary if we do see the healthcare system getting overwhelmed.
“The healthcare capacity and the situation on each of the islands is very different,” Ige added. “And we will make decisions to roll back things if necessary if we do see the healthcare system getting overwhelmed.”
David Hu, president of Classic Vacations, said on Tuesday the variety of post-travel test requirements across Hawaii’s islands is not ideal, but he felt they were a challenge his company can overcome.
“It’s really no different than all of the Caribbean islands we’re selling,” Hu said. “They all have somewhat different protocols in terms of what’s allowed and what’s not. Ultimately, we’d just end up splitting Hawaii into four different destinations.”
Hu was quick to insist, however, that the post-travel test confusion leading up to Ige’s press conference Tuesday has not been good for the destination.
“Ninety percent of people who are willing to travel right now are going to go through every single hoop you throw at them to travel, so just hurry up and figure it out,” Hu said. “For Hawaii, people are just confused. We’re getting sporadic bookings here and there, but people are on the sidelines right now because they’re waiting to find out exactly what’s required to go.”
Benjamin Rafter, president and CEO of Springboard Hospitality, which manages a number of hotels across the islands, agreed that uncertainty about the Aloha State’s passenger entry programs has dampened demand. But Rafter felt that the relatively small arrival totals Hawaii is likely to see in coming weeks will give the destination a chance to iron out its COVID-19 test program kinks and earn back customer confidence before the islands’ traditionally busy holiday season.
“October and November are generally going to be our worst months of the year anyway, so let’s walk before we run,” he said, noting Springboard is seeing enthusiasm for Hawaii in customer surveys but few bookings at the moment. “What I see is very, very low volumes, which is good because it gives us a chance to make sure we’re reopening to the best of our abilities and in a safe way.”
Ige said Tuesday his administration anticipates between 2,000 and 3,000 trans-Pacific visitors per day over the next two to four weeks. In 2019, the destination averaged about 30,000 visitor arrivals per day.
This is an imperfect scenario being executed by imperfect people, who have one thing in common: aloha for Hawaii and aloha for one another.
“More hotels are preparing to open as we move along,” Ige said. “The airlines are monitoring the bookings, and they’ll be adding additional flights as necessary.”
The Hawaii governor also said the destination continues to add testing providers to its list of trusted partners on the U.S. mainland. Travelers looking to participate in Hawaii’s pretest program must receive a nucleic acid amplification test at least 72 hours before their departure, administered by a provider on the state’s accepted list of 17 partners, which includes CVS, Walgreens and Kaiser Permanente as well as preflight testing options offered by airlines such as Hawaiian, United and American.
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Children under the age of 5 do not need to be tested, and the negative test results must be uploaded on Hawaii’s Safe Travels platform, which features a range of additional information about arrival requirements and safety protocols.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority’s new president and CEO John De Fries also spoke Tuesday during the Honolulu press conference, saying not all of the state’s hotels will be open in weeks ahead, but “there will be enough of an inventory to deal with the traffic that is anticipated between Oct. 15 and the holiday season.”
Discussing the unprecedented challenges facing Hawaii’s visitor industry, De Fries conceded the governor’s pretesting plan, and the collection of post-arrival exam programs for visitors set to begin in coming days across the islands, were not without flaws. He also acknowledged the division within Hawaii communities about how best to restart the state’s tourism economy while keeping people safe.
“This is an imperfect scenario being executed by imperfect people, who have one thing in common: aloha for Hawaii and aloha for one another,” De Fries said. “We need to hold on to that spirit as we go through this. And even though you may not believe in these decisions that are being made, be constructive in your criticisms and support one another because the cynicism in this state is moving as fast as the virus, and that’s got to stop.”
Hawaii State Department of Health