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On Friday, Hawaii Gov. David Ige approved Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami’s request to rejoin the state’s “Safe Travels” program, effective April 5. The move clears the way for out-of-state visitors to again move freely about the Garden Isle immediately upon arrival with proof of a single negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the final leg of their journey.
Since Jan. 5, Kauai has required transpacific travelers to not only provide proof of a negative COVID-19 pre-test but also mandated that visitors spend another 72 hours at a participating resort bubble on the island and take another COVID-19 test before they venture out.
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Kauai opted out of the statewide Safe Travels program on Dec. 5 last year after a surge in cases on the island spurred fears about COVID-19 patients overwhelming an already limited hospital system. More than a third of the island’s 72,000 residents have, however, since been vaccinated, according to Mayor Kawakami, and Garden Isle health officials have signed off on the re-entry plan.
“With the distribution of the vaccine to high-risk groups and the improving situation on the mainland, the Kauai District Health Office supports opening transpacific travel with a single pre-travel test at this time,” said Dr. Janet Berreman, Kauai’s District Health Officer, in a statement on March 2.
Through March 7, 186 confirmed COVID-19 cases and one related death have been reported on Kauai, according to Hawaii’s Department of Health, which indicated that the island has seen just six new positive tests in the last two weeks.
The mayor of Kauai has done a good job stopping COVID-19, but because the rules were very different, it also created confusion and a very steep decline in travel to both Kauai and, in some cases, to the rest of the state.
Kauai’s current list of post-arrival safety and testing protocols for visitors varies quite a bit from the requirements for travelers elsewhere in the state, according to Josh Green, Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii, a practicing emergency room physician who spearheaded the creation of the Safe Travels program. Green said the additional mandates for transpacific Garden Isle travelers have been effective but problematic.
“The mayor of Kauai has done a good job stopping COVID-19, but because the rules were very different, it also created confusion and a very steep decline in travel to both Kauai and, in some cases, to the rest of the state,” Green said. “People didn’t know for sure whether one rule applied to Kauai and another to Oahu or to Maui.”
Green was hopeful Kauai’s April 5 re-entry into the statewide pretest program will help minimize some of the confusion, but the lieutenant governor still feels Safe Travels, launched Oct. 15 last year, has been successful.
“We’ve had over 1.5 million travelers, and our case counts are lower than they’ve been in months,” Green said. “So, it’s clear the Safe Travels program has worked, but it’s also clear people need to understand the rules.”
Ray Snisky, group president of Apple Leisure Group (ALG) Vacations, believes Kauai’s decision to drop its post-arrival resort bubble and testing requirements will be positive for Hawaii overall.
“It streamlines the restrictions across the Hawaiian Islands, creating less confusion for both the consumer and travel advisors looking to book their passengers to the islands,” Snisky explained on Friday. “We have found that destinations with clear and consistent protocols have seen better performance — more bookings, fewer cancellations.”
It streamlines the restrictions across the Hawaiian Islands, creating less confusion for both the consumer and travel advisors looking to book their passengers to the islands.
Kauai’s Safe Travels Re-Entry Leads to Kauai Tourism ReopeningsThe governor’s approval of Kauai Mayor Kawakami’s re-entry request was certainly positive news for Katy Britzmann, director of sales and marketing for the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa, who said in an email Friday that the property will officially reopen on April 5.
The resort is the largest private employer on Kauai, according to Britzmann, who said most of the Grand Hyatt Kauai’s 850 part- and full-time employees have been on furlough since the property closed on Dec. 5 last year when Kawakami opted out of Safe Travels.
“We’re just thrilled,” Britzmann said of Kauai’s re-entry. “We’re a resilient community. … It’s been devastating for the island to be closed, but now is the time to look forward and not look back.”
The Grand Hyatt Kauai first closed last year on March 26, when Gov. Ige initiated a mandatory statewide 14-day quarantine for all travelers arriving to Hawaii on transpacific flights, though the property did reopen briefly on Oct. 15 last year with the launch of the Safe Travels program.
Britzmann noted that not all of the downtime has been unproductive, however, saying large-scale renovations to the property’s pool deck and exterior have been completed along with improvements in suites and guestrooms.
“There’s some beautiful new suite product,” Britzmann said. “We’ve renovated a lot of the suite bathrooms, and there’s all-new carpeting and new furnishings in the guestrooms.”
Britzmann noted not everything will be open at the Grand Hyatt Kauai on April 5, but she said, “we’ll be a full-service property,” indicating many of the restaurants, the pools, the spa, the fitness center and the golf course should all be available to guests.
Bret Robins, director of sales and marketing for Timbers Kauai, said Kauai’s re-entry to the Safe Travels program is a “game changer” for the island. Although his property hasn’t closed and has even reached occupancies of 100% during recent weekends as a participating resort bubble location, Robins indicated that much of the rest of Kauai has really been hurting.
“We’re very mom and pop here,” he said. “You don’t see many global or nationwide companies. These are all local, small entrepreneurs, restauranteurs, bakers and so forth, and they’ve been hit the hardest. So, to see Kauai go back into Safe Travels will allow, we think, a safe mechanism for more tourism to come onto the island, which will, of course, really change the dynamic of the island — and it’s really needed.”
However, Judi Glass, a Kauai-based affiliate of McCabe World Travel and Virtuoso, said fewer tourists on the Garden Isle has not necessarily been a negative for all of the residents.
“For the past year, we’ve been very spoiled,” said Glass, who traditionally books most of her clients on vacations outside the state. “For those of us who don’t own a business here, or count on Kauai tourism for income, we’ve been in paradise — there’s no traffic. But there is, of course, another side of the coin, and we feel for all our neighbors who depend on tourism and for all of those businesses that are closing.”
Glass said she’s a proponent of the island’s Safe Travels re-entry and noted that she’s seen a surprising recent spike in inquiries and even bookings from new clients for Hawaii vacations, including a multi-island trip she just put on the books for later this year featuring time on Kauai.
“I’ve made more bookings for Hawaii than I have in quite a while,” Glass said. “And two of them are coming here to Kauai, staying at the Grand Hyatt, and then heading to Maui, Hawaii Island and the Four Seasons on Oahu.”
Vaccine Passport for Hawaii: Can Vaccinated Travelers Opt Out of Testing and Quarantine?Lt. Gov. Josh Green has, meanwhile, proposed a plan to modify the current Safe Travels program to allow vaccinated visitors to vacation in Hawaii without a pre-test or 10-day quarantine. Logistics are currently being hammered out, according to Green, but he’s hopeful a vaccine passport approach for inoculated travelers across the Aloha State could be up and running by early May.
We’re working on [a vaccination card plan], and I’m positive this is going to be our ticket to opening up Hawaii for a lot more travelers safely.
“It may very well be that we are simply able to have people upload their vaccination cards and show it on arrival,” Green said of the system now being considered. “We’re working on [a vaccination card plan], and I’m positive this is going to be our ticket to opening up Hawaii for a lot more travelers safely.”
Green said he was confident Hawaii’s current daily arrivals figure of around 14,000 travelers could increase to 23,000 by allowing vaccinated individuals to visit the islands without a pre-test. Green also conceded that Safe Travels isn’t perfect, saying that taking a COVID-19 test no more than 72 hours before departure but also requiring travelers have their negative results in hand before boarding a flight “throws a wet blanket on many peoples’ plans.”
“But the vaccine passport is something people know will be finished,” he said. “They will know they’ve received their vaccines. They’ll know they’ve waited the two-week cooling off period so they’re fully immune, and they can simply plan their trip. It’s the game-changer travel destinations need.”
Apple Leisure Group’s Snisky said the wholesaler has already seen six countries initiate programs allowing vaccinated passengers to now skip both testing and quarantine.
“We are seeing destinations with clear protocols and ease of testing winning the consumers that are ready to travel,” Snisky said. “While it is still early in the vaccination process, destinations that have a plan to welcome vaccinated travelers easily, removing the other protocols, will see great benefit.”
Snisky also said bookings to Honolulu and Maui have jumped in recent weeks, noting that for the week ending Feb. 27, business to Maui was up 24% from the same period in 2019. And the wholesaler has seen even more improvement for other destinations, including Puerto Vallarta, Las Vegas and Punta Cana.
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“Consumer confidence is strengthening,” he said on Friday. “Our research indicates 60% of clients say they’re ready to travel again. And we’re seeing it in our business, which has come roaring back the last two weeks. Last week we saw a 40% increase week over week. This week we saw another 25% increase from last week.”
The Details Hawaii’s Safe Travels Program www.hawaiicovid19/travel