Gov. David Ige said today that preclearance flights from Japan to Hawaii are at least a year out, but the state is working to shorten that window.
Preclearance flights would allow Japanese visitors to undergo immigration and customs screening before flying to Hawaii and other U.S. destinations. Proponents say the process would ease congestion at local airports and would make travel to Hawaii more convenient for Japanese travelers.
Hawaii tourism officials have been pushing preclearance programs for Japan for decades since that nation is Hawaii’s largest international source market. About 1.5 million Japanese visitors came to Hawaii in 2019, spending about $2.2 billion a year, according to statistics from the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
The push to expand the Japanese visitor market comes as the state is grappling with other issues that could throw off the Japan market, including the coronavirus and the controversy over the Thirty Meter Telescope.
Ige called a news conference today to discuss his trip to Japan that spanned Feb. 15-18, which also included meetings with stakeholders of the Thirty Meter Telescope to provide updates on the project.
While in Japan, he also attended a Hawaii Tourism Japan news conference in Tokyo to promote surfing, which will debut as an Olympic sport for the first time at the summer Olympics in Japan.
Ige also provided an update on his Feb. 5-11 trip Washington, D.C. for the National Governors Association’s Winter Meeting, a bipartisan gathering of the nation’s governors. There Ige met with members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation and participated in various governors’ receptions, events and panel discussions.
While he was in Washington, Ige discussed the coronavirus with the Centers for Disease Control head and other agencies involved, he said today.
Ige said one of his key messages to them was the need for Hawaii to obtain the ability to conduct fast and accurate testing.
“Hawaii had a very unique situation the time it takes for us to get a sample send it to Atlanta for testing and get it back exceeds more than a week,” Ige said. “The ability to test in Hawaii should be a national priority just because of our isolation.”
Ige said he’s advocated for Hawaii to be a beta tester for the coronavirus and has offered, if necessary, that the state also provide testing for the Pacific Island nations, including Guam and other U.S. territories.
Ige said the state is working on setting up a joint information center at the Hawaii Department of Health “to allow us to provide accurate information on a timely basis.”
Currently, Ige said, no cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in Hawaii, although 41 individuals have been put on self-monitoring at home because they may have had some exposure to the new virus, known as COVID-19. An individual, whose confinement at Pearl Harbor runs through Monday, is “in good health,” he said.
Ige said the Japanese visitor, who was diagnosed with the coronavirus after returning from a trip to Hawaii that spanned Jan. 28 to Feb. 7, is in the hospital and his wife has “fully recovered and is in good health.”
Should the coronavirus come to Hawaii, Ige said “every hospital is prepared to isolate and quarantine.”
The state also is making plans, including setting up “instant hospitals,” should it eventually get more cases of the coronavirus than a specific facility could handle, he said.