Local government leaders and activists have yanked Hawaii’s tourism welcome mat in the name of public safety, surprising visitors who generally feel safe and grateful to be here.
“We think this is the best place to ride out a worldwide scare,” Shawna Moore, a visitor from Montana, said Wednesday afternoon while waxing up a surfboard in Waikiki while on vacation with her husband to visit their daughter, who attends the University of Hawaii. “We’re glad we’re here.”
Jamie Moore, who’s been surfing with his wife in Kalaeloa, the North Shore and Kaneohe during their three-week trip, added that it wouldn’t be bad if something derails their scheduled Tuesday flight home.
“We feel safe here,” he said.
Evan Asche, who flew from Pennsylvania with his fiancee, Trisha, to Oahu on Friday and got married on Waikiki beach Saturday, called Hawaii an oasis.
“Pennsylvania is freaking out,” he said.
“There’s a lot more panic there,” his wife added.
More than 250,000 tourists were in Hawaii on an average day last March and in January, according to state statistics.
Tourists interviewed Wednesday said they wouldn’t have traveled to Hawaii if they suspected they had COVID-19 or an elevated risk of having it.
Yet the welcoming spirit and aloha Hawaii has long had for visitors is fraying.
On Wednesday, Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami announced that “visitors should not be traveling to our island for recreational purposes” until further notice, and urged the tourism industry to temporarily refrain from marketing the Garden Isle in order to protect community health and safety.
“Kauai is on vacation!” Kawakami said in a statement.
On Maui and Molokai, protesters demonstrated at airports Wednesday holding signs with messages that included “Tourist go home” and “No tourist allowed.”
Leaders of the protest explained in a statement that the tourism industry is marketing cheap vacations that may be seen by travelers as a way to hide from coronavirus in an isolated place, and that travelers could be carrying the virus to residents who are being advised to stay away from others.
“If our government will not, we have no choice but to make it clear, right now visitors are not welcome,” Kaena Elaban said in a statement.
Another leader of the Maui County community opposition to vacationers during the pandemic, Koa Hewahewa, added in the statement: “If you love and respect Maui, then listen up. Maui is CLOSED.”
The actions by demonstrators and Kauai’s mayor came one day after Gov. David Ige publicly requested that all would-be Hawaii visitors reschedule trips over the next 30 days to a later date.
Max and Alina Ivanov, visitors from Russia, considered cancelling their trip to Hawaii but felt it was safe in large part because there have been relatively few COVID-19 cases in their country.
“We live far from Moscow,” Alina Ivanov said. “It’s quiet in our city.”
The couple arrived Wednesday in Honolulu and have an itinerary to visit Kauai on Monday.
Melissa Casey, a visitor from Washington State, had planned to visit the Philippines for 10 days with her husband, Jack, but redirected their trip to Hawaii five days ago because of coronavirus concerns.
Spending some time on Waikiki beach in the sun after arriving in Honolulu Wednesday allowed the couple to relax, though Melissa Casey said they would go home if a ban on air travel was ordered.
“Given our current (global) health situation, I felt a little guilty, but I needed a break,” she said after sipping pineapple juice out of a hollowed-out fresh pineapple.
Amanda Johnson, a visitor from Reno, Nev., who arrived in Honolulu Monday with her husband and four children, said her family weighed factors that included their susceptibility to COVID-19 and the number of infections in Hawaii before coming, and decided it was safe.
Johnson also said that if officials said they have to leave, then they would go.
During their trip, the Johnsons have played games in their hotel room, visited the beach and on Wednesday were eating lunch from Teddy’s Bigger Burgers in the back of their full-size SUV in the parking lot of the Honolulu Zoo, which was closed.
The newlywed couple in Waikiki, Evan and Trisha Asche, were supposed to get married on a Princess Cruises ship sailing from Los Angeles to Hawaii before the cruise got canceled. So they flew here instead to keep their wedding date set in January and are grateful to be in what they consider a safe place.
They are scheduled to return home to Pennsylvania today.
“I don’t want to leave,” Evan Asche said.