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It has been more than two weeks since Hawaii launched its pretest program for trans-Pacific U.S. travelers, and although there have certainly been early challenges, many industry stakeholders are optimistic about the tourism reboot’s longer-term success.
"It’s going far better than I could have possibly hoped,” said Josh Green, Hawaii Lieutenant Governor and an emergency room physician who spearhead the state’s pretest program planning. “Of course, we know there have been bumps along the way. Any time you have a national program or international program that’s not been done anywhere before, you’d expect that. But on the whole, it’s gone very well for the state of Hawaii.”
As of Oct. 15, trans-Pacific U.S. travelers with proof of a negative COVID-19 test — taken no longer than 72 hours before their departure — can bypass Hawaii’s current mandatory 14-day quarantine. Through the first 12 days of the program, nearly 63,000 trans-pacific visitors have taken part, Green said on Oct. 20.
“The first three days were extremely heavy [with arrivals],” Green said, noting the destination saw a surge of returning residents early on. “The subsequent four days were 15% to 20% lighter.”
Early difficulties Green acknowledged were the incredibly long wait and lines for trans-Pacific passengers deplaning at airports on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island while COVID-19 test results were verified.
"Because travel exceeded our expectations by about 50-75% in the first seven days, there were longer lines,” he said. “We’ve since been able to adjust several things, [such as] putting more people into the testing team to speed that up. We’ve also been able to spread out arrival gates in different parts of the state, and that makes a big difference too. ... And at the airports now, the waits are [shorter] in general.”
Travelers looking to skip the two-week quarantine will need to register through Hawaii’s Safe Travels website; provide details about their upcoming trip and flights; upload results of their negative NAAT COVID-19 test in a PDF format; and complete a health questionnaire. Travelers will then be emailed a QR code to be scanned upon arrival to the islands by health screeners at the airport.
The best advice I can give to people is get your test in hand, have it ready and upload your result to Safe Travels Hawaii before you get on the plane.
“The best advice I can give to people is get your test in hand, have it ready and upload your result to Safe Travels Hawaii before you get on the plane,” Green said. “If you wait for your result after, you could be waiting a significant amount of time until we get around to checking all of the manual tests that have to be done.”
Chris Riccardi, senior vice president of global sales for Outrigger Hospitality Group, recently traveled from California to Hawaii after completing a COVID-19 test at a drive-thru CVS location in Orange County 72 hours before his flight.
“My screening after I landed in Honolulu took less than 30 seconds,” he said, noting that he also showed airport screeners a PDF of his negative result on his phone. “You do need the QR code from the Safe Travel Hawaii app.”
Riccardi added that although Outrigger bookings are significantly behind last year’s pace at this time, the company has seen an increase in Hawaii bookings since the Oct. 15 pretest launch. Bookings have also been pretty solid for travel to the Aloha State during the second and third quarters of 2021, but the hotel management company is also now seeing more interest for the rest of this year.
"Last week was our best booking week since March,” Riccardi said. “It shows people may have had the wait-and-see approach. Now that Hawaii is open, the demand is rising — calls and website traffic are up.”
Regina Tait, owner of the TravelCom Travel Agency in Huntington Beach, Calif., said she’s also seen an increase in Hawaii inquiries and has made new bookings to the islands since the Oct. 15 reboot.
“We’re definitely promoting the destination again and working hard to sell it,” Tait said. “And we have certainly had people contact us who are interested now that they know Hawaii is open. It’s not full throttle ahead, but we’ve booked three trips in four days.”
It consumes a lot of a travel agent’s time to stay on top of the fast pace of changing requirements necessary to travel to Hawaii or other destinations.
Tait did note, however, that lingering confusion about different testing requirements on each of the islands and uncertainty surrounding interisland travel procedures has been a source of frustration in recent weeks.
"It consumes a lot of a travel agent’s time to stay on top of the fast pace of changing requirements necessary to travel to Hawaii or other destinations,” she explained. “And as much information as we can get from those destinations is helpful — as much and as often as possible — to stay on top of things.”
Hawaii Interisland Travel and Protocol Differences Among the IslandsRiccardi agreed that the variance in passenger arrival requirements across the islands was initially tough to navigate, but he said officials have provided some clarity recently.
"I think not having the entire state following the same policy has been confusing to the travelers,” he said. “But the state has come along recently with more detailed information about the program. We were working on it up to the last minute prior to Oct. 15, and I think now that it has opened and it’s up and running, it’s running a lot smoother.”
Lt. Gov. Green encouraged travel advisors with questions to visit www.hawaiicovid19.com, where he said they will find further details about the state’s Safe Travels program and links to each of the Hawaiian Islands’ travel protocols and testing requirements. He also noted Hawaii Island visitors will be required to take a post-arrival COVID-19 test at no charge, while those visiting Kauai and Maui County will be encouraged to take part in volunteer post-arrival tests.
Trans-Pacific visitors interested in a multi-island vacation are currently required to complete another COVID-19 test in Hawaii 72 hours before island-hopping, according to Green.
“If you were just passing through — say you had a Los Angeles to Maui vacation, but you stopped through on Oahu — your pretest will suffice,” he said. “If you, however, stop and spend several days on one of the islands, you’re going to need to get an additional test.”
Acknowledging some of the interisland travel plan’s complications for out-of-state visitors, Green offered further clarification.
You’re probably thinking to yourself, ‘Well, what if someone gets the test right before they travel, they spend two nights on Oahu and then go on to Maui?’
“You’re probably thinking to yourself, ‘Well, what if someone gets the test right before they travel, they spend two nights on Oahu and then go on to Maui?’” Green said. “We have not achieved the sophistication yet that will allow for that to clear them [for travel]. So, it would better if people either chose one main island to be on, or plan to get a test here in the islands before they moved on to their second destination.”
Trans-Pacific visitors should also come prepared to wear masks during their stay in Hawaii. Travelers not following the Aloha State’s mask mandate have generated headlines across the islands’ media outlets in recent days, and the issue is a concern for visitor industry officials. John De Fries, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, brought masks up during an Oct. 20 Honolulu press conference to announce the state’s pretest plan will be extended to trans-Pacific Japanese visitors starting Nov. 6.
"The governor’s proclamation making mask wearing mandatory is not a guideline; it is the law of the land,” De Fries said. “I was shocked this weekend to witness the complacency with which people are choosing not to wear a mask. This is the law. ... The leaders in our industry need to reinforce this, whether it’s on the airline, ground transportation, hotels, activities or restaurants. We need to get a handle on this immediately.”
The Details Hawaii’s COVID-19 Portal hawaiicovid19.com