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Although the restart date for trans-Pacific tourism to the Hawaiian Islands is just a little more than two weeks away, potential visitors are still receiving mixed messages about COVID-19 pretesting requirements for the Aloha State. And that confusion certainly is not helping combat lingering skepticism among tourism stakeholders about whether Hawaii will indeed reopen its visitor industry Oct. 15.
On Friday afternoon, Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor Joshua Green, a former emergency room physician heading up the destination’s pretesting planning effort, said the Aloha State will not accept results from a self-collected, mail-in COVID-19 test option announced Thursday by United Airlines for its passengers flying to Hawaii from San Francisco.
Touting its close work with Hawaii officials, United Airlines said last week it has partnered with GoHealth Urgent Care to offer passengers flying to Hawaii COVID-19 test results within 15 minutes at a facility inside the San Francisco International Airport. That service is slated to launch Oct. 15, and the rapid tests will cost $250 per person.
United also announced details Thursday about an $80 mail-in, self-test option for SFO travelers headed to Hawaii, with which passengers could collect their own samples 72 hours before boarding their plane.
“The governor has decided that the state will not accept unobserved tests for the start of the program,” Green said Friday of the mail-in test kits. “The State of Hawaii will accept United’s other test option, the rapid Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 test, which provides results in about 15 minutes and will be administered by trained professionals.”
United spokesperson Annabelle Cottee said today that the airline “will continue working in partnership with the state and our healthcare providers to ensure our COVID testing meets all local requirements for entry into Hawaii.”
Green’s comments about the inadmissibility of United’s mail-in test option came not long after an announcement made Friday by Hawaiian Airlines, outlining a partnership with Worksite Labs to operate facilities near Los Angeles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport, where passengers can receive a drive-up PCR COVID-19 test and get results 72 hours prior to departure for $90 or pay $150 for day-of-travel express service.
Like United, Hawaiian said its COVID-19 drive-up facilities are scheduled to open around Oct. 15 and would allow passengers — who test negative at least 72 hours before boarding their flight — to bypass the Aloha State’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for arriving trans-Pacific visitors, fulfilling the pretest approach Hawaii Gov. David Ige has said will now begin Oct. 15.
Ige has postponed the start date of that pretest plan three times already this summer.
Classic Vacations’ president David Hu, meanwhile, is a big fan of the pretest options for passengers announced last week by Hawaiian and United.
“I love it,” Hu said on Friday. “This is probably the best thing they could have done to take matters into their own hands to help travelers.”
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Classic has seen an increase in Hawaii interest since Ige’s Oct. 15 announcement earlier this month, according to Hu, but he noted there is still a fair amount of trepidation about travel to the Aloha State.
“People are saying, ‘We’ll believe it when we see it,’” Hu explained, noting Hawaiian and United’s pretest options should boost confidence.
“This actually gives people a glimmer of hope that logistically there is a more realistic chance Hawaii will open up come Oct. 15,” he said.
This actually gives people a glimmer of hope that logistically there is a more realistic chance Hawaii will open up come Oct. 15.
Kari Mollan, a longtime Hawaii expert at Stellar Travel in Bellevue, Wash., was also glad to see Hawaiian and United’s announcements last week, describing the news as “fantastic.” But, like Hu, she said many of her clients remain skeptical.
“Our poor travelers have had the carpet pulled out from under them more times than not with schedule, reschedule, reschedule,” she said.
Mollan is hopeful United and Hawaiian will also launch COVID-19 testing facilities in or near airports in Portland and Seattle. And although she does not have any current bookings to Hawaii, Mollan said Gov. Ige’s announcement about the Oct. 15 restart has increased interest.
“I’ve had more requests for Hawaii in the last two weeks than I have in months,” she said.
Pleasant Holidays president and CEO Jack Richards also applauded the decisions by Hawaiian and United to offer same-day COVID-19 pretests for passengers, and he expects other major carriers flying to Hawaii — including Delta, American, Alaskan and Southwest — to offer similar options for their customers in the near future.
Where we’re having the greatest difficulty right now is trying to determine which hotels will be open by Oct. 15, and if they’re going to be open, what restaurants, spa and other facilities will be open to guests.
“If United, Hawaiian and the rest of the airline industry can make this work, it will be so good for tourism,” Richards said.
Richards agreed that after so many delays, travelers remain skeptical about whether Hawaii will actually reopen to trans-Pacific visitors next month. But he said what will actually be open then to visitors is creating other headaches.
“Where we’re having the greatest difficulty right now is trying to determine which hotels will be open by Oct. 15, and if they’re going to be open, what restaurants, spa and other facilities will be open to guests,” Richards said. “What you don’t want is for travelers to go through the COVID-19 testing and then get there and find less experiences than they thought.”