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Hawaii Governor David Ige postponed the start of the destination’s pre-travel COVID-19 test program for the third time in three months on Wednesday, saying his plan to welcome trans-Pacific visitors back to the Aloha State will now start Oct. 15.
Ige first announced the program in late June, outlining an approach that allows trans-Pacific travelers with proof of a negative COVID-19 test — completed 72 hours before arriving in the islands — to bypass the destination’s mandatory 14-day quarantine. The pretest strategy was originally slated to begin Aug. 1, but it was pushed back to Sept. 1 and later delayed again by the Hawaii governor until Oct. 1.
“Hawaii will start its pre-travel testing program for COVID-19 on Oct. 15, enabling travelers to avoid quarantine if they take the test within a 72-hour period prior to their arrival and test negative,” Ige said during a press conference in Honolulu yesterday. “We have agreements in place with CVS and Kaiser Permanente, who will offer the tests, and we will announce new testing partners in the coming weeks.”
Whether this latest delay will indeed be the last — and whether trans-Pacific tourism will begin again across the Hawaiian Islands at the midpoint of next month — remains an understandably tough question for some visitor industry stakeholders, including Kathy Takushi, owner of Captivating Journeys, an Ensemble Travel Group affiliate on Maui.
Takushi, who works with both Hawaii residents wanting to travel outside the islands and visitors looking to vacation within the Aloha State, says her business has basically “been dead in the water” because of the 14-day mandatory quarantine for arriving trans-Pacific travelers, enacted by Gov. Ige March 26. Takushi did have some interest in Hawaii vacations for October, November and December earlier this summer, but the parade of restart delays has since squelched that demand, and she is skeptical Ige’s pretesting restart will actually happen Oct. 15.
“I just want to wait until next year because there is still so much uncertainty,” Takushi said of arranging future bookings to the Islands for her clients. “Until I know it’s really not going to get pushed back, I don’t want to promote.”
I just want to wait until next year because there is still so much uncertainty. Until I know it’s really not going to get pushed back, I don’t want to promote.
Hawaii saw COVID-19 cases surge on Oahu in August, a substantial increase resulting in stay-at-home restrictions for the island’s residents. But new case numbers have been dropping there in recent weeks. Through Sept. 16, 10,946 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 103 related deaths have been reported across the state, according to Hawaii’s Department of Health.
Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, says there is still pent-up demand for Hawaii vacations, and Gov. Ige’s Oct. 15 announcement was welcome news.
“We expect a surge in bookings for Thanksgiving, the Christmas-New Year’s festive seasons and 2021 spring break immediately,” Richards said. “This will also slow the Hawaii trip cancellations for late October and November 2020 we have experienced due to uncertainty created by the frequent change in opening dates.”
Describing Hawaii’s pretesting plan as similar to an approach already working in French Polynesia, Richards notes it has become easier for Pleasant’s clients to receive COVID-19 test results quickly in recent weeks.
Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor Josh Green, a former emergency room physician who has been directing the Ige administration’s pretesting plan efforts, said on Wednesday that the tests provided by mainland-based healthcare partners would cost $120 to $140 per person. Green also noted that all traveling passengers, including children of all ages, will be subject to the state’s pretest requirement.
“CVS, Kaiser, Walgreens — they will, now that we have a firm date, have internal changes to their websites, so that if a person is in New York or California or wherever, and they want to travel to Hawaii, they can click on that and schedule a pre-travel test,” Green said.
Green, who tested positive for COVID-19 last week and appeared via Zoom from his daughter’s bedroom during the Wednesday press conference, said his symptoms had been mild so far. The lieutenant governor also indicated advances in COVID-19 testing and technology may mean trans-Pacific visitors to Hawaii could later be tested a second time after arriving in the Islands.
“We may be able to pursue that if it’s not too expensive, and we can do it on the spot,” Green said.
Conspicuously absent during Wednesday’s press conference was one tourism topic: discussion of Neighbor Island resort bubbles. On Tuesday this week, Ige signed an emergency rule establishing an Enhanced Movement Quarantine, or resort bubble program, for Kauai, according to the island’s Mayor Derek Kawakami.
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The new rule would permit visitors at participating Kauai resorts to leave their hotel rooms to make use of the property, including pools and on-site restaurants, during their mandatory quarantine. But those guests would be required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet that would then be tracked by participating resorts. Participating guests caught off property could face a fine of up to $5,000 or serve up to a year in jail, or both.
“The Resort Bubble program is an added tool to reopening our economy while we learn to co-exist with this virus,” said Kawakami, who noted there is no launch date yet for the program, although several Kauai resorts have already expressed interest. “It’s not a replacement or the final solution.”
Several resort bubble details still need to be worked out, including whether testing would be required at properties, and discussions are ongoing with Kauai tourism stakeholders, according to Kawakami. Even so, neither Richards nor longtime travel advisor Takushi felt the resort bubble concept would offer much appeal to their clients.
“Why would you spend all that money just to stay at the hotel?” Takushi said.
The Details Hawaii Visitors and Conventions Bureau www.gohawaii.com