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Hawaii visitors slip in despite coronavirus crackdowns

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                A passenger used the touch screen for self check-in at the Hawaiian Airlines terminal in the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, March 25.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    A passenger used the touch screen for self check-in at the Hawaiian Airlines terminal in the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, March 25.

Tens of thousands of visitors are no longer coming to Hawaii each day, but hundreds are — and even that’s too many for some residents and government officials who are working to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Since March 26, when Gov. David Ige instituted a 14-day mandatory self-­quarantine for all arriving trans-Pacific passengers, 3,000 visitors have come into the state.

Some 203 out-of-state visitors also took interisland flights from April 1 to Saturday, according to the latest information available from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Ige extended the quarantine to interisland flights April 1.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported that 107 more trans-Pacific visitors arrived Wednesday, when the first set of visitors who flew into Hawaii on March 26 completed their self-quarantines.

The slight drop in visitor traffic broke a five-day rise in trans-Pacific visitors coming to Hawaii. In comparison, the number of visitors Tuesday was 160; it was 133 Monday, 126 on Sunday, 106 on Saturday, 94 on Friday and 89 on Thursday.

It’s still unclear how many visitors are coming to Hawaii for nonessential travel and what’s bringing them here. Anecdotally, tourism officials think some of the visitors are coming to take advantage of cheap deals. Others might be second-­home owners or vacation renters trying to hunker down in Hawaii rather than where they live, where COVID-19 cases and restrictions could be even worse.

Critics have wondered why airlines aren’t preventing nonessential travelers from booking or curbing demand by raising rates for everyone but Hawaii residents. But carriers have said they can’t infringe on passengers’ rights to fly free of discrimination.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority and Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau have supported state and county tourism lockdowns. Earlier this week HVCB asked publications not to promote Hawaii travel. HTA recently posted a new video at 808ne.ws/notourism to keep the relationship with its visitors while asking them to delay their visit.

HTA President and CEO Chris Tatum said, “We continue to include the airlines on our ongoing updates and requests to discourage people from visiting Hawaii during the crisis.”

Tatum said airlines are informing visitors of Hawaii’s restrictions in a variety of ways, including text messaging, check-in announcements, pre-boarding announcements and website alerts.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Maui Mayor Mike Victorino and Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami have asked President Donald Trump to order a stop for all nonessential travel to Hawaii. But so far, Gov. David Ige hasn’t backed that request.

Councilwoman Kym Pine said she’s also asked the airlines that serve Hawaii to voluntarily stop nonessential travel.

In the interim, she hopes the state will step up enforcement of its ongoing self-quarantine orders and consider requiring that visitors coming to Hawaii be tested for COVID-19 and provide proof of negative results before traveling.

“It just takes one person to infect a large part of the population,” Pine said. “We require rabies testing for animals. If we’re that strict for animals, I’m going to assume that it would legally be OK.”

Pine said she wants idle state workers redeployed to monitor residents and visitors who are expected to self-quarantine.

“My greatest concern right now is that a lot of elected officials are getting reports of people who are not being tracked,” Pine said. “We don’t have a strong system in place. Every time I see a plane overhead, I wonder how many people are putting us at risk.”

State Sen. Glenn Wakai said he likes Pine’s testing idea but that it might be difficult to mandate. For now he’s focused on improving medical screening at state airports, where he wants thermal screens installed and flight arrival times clustered for efficiency.

Wakai said government also needs to do more to reduce transient vacation rental stays.

Matt Middlebrook, Airbnb’s head of policy in California and Hawaii, said, “Airbnb is working with local governments in real time to both address these orders and ensure short-term and longer-term rentals are an available resource for front-line responders and those sheltering in place during this crisis.”

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