Hawaii tourism campaigns used to be pretty straightforward affairs urging travelers to come.
Now a far different campaign is being developed to explain requirements for having a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before traveling to avoid a 14-day quarantine upon arrival starting Aug. 1.
The effort is in an early stage, with a pressing need for effective delivery soon.
Chris Tatum, Hawaii Tourism Authority CEO, told a special state House committee Monday that the Hawaii Visitors &Convention Bureau is drafting a preliminary plan for the industry to ensure travelers know about the new coronavirus safety requirements for incoming travelers announced Wednesday by Gov. David Ige.
“We don’t want people coming here and going into quarantine,” Tatum said during a videoconference meeting of the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness. “They need to know that they got to get a test before they come, and once if they do that, if they do the right process, they’re going to have a phenomenal experience here. If they don’t, they’re going to be sitting in their hotel room twiddling their thumbs.”
There is urgency to get that message out, especially with recent daily records for new coronavirus cases in some mainland states.
Wendy Laros, a committee member and executive director of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, said the timeline for the communications plan is extremely important because travelers are making reservations now.
“The visitor industry really needs to know,” she said. “The travelers really need to know.”
Mufi Hannemann, committee member and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging &Tourism Association, said the visitor industry has been clamoring for a tourism revival but also recognizes the need for well-communicated traveler safety protocols.
“We’re all going to be singing out of the same hymnbook,” he said. “We know that we are part of this responsibility going forward to ensuring that visitors who come here, travelers who come here, are well aware of what we expect of them.”
State Rep. Della Au Belatti (D, Makiki-McCully-Manoa) expressed concerns over availability of testing within 72 hours of travel and Hawaii being an attractive place to visit with $200 round-trip flights as other countries shun American travelers because of coronavirus infection rates.
“I’m very concerned,” she said.
Ray Vara, CEO of Hawaii Pacific Health, who is also on the committee, said he is aware of potential challenges with test timing, and that this is being discussed with drugstore chain CVS and other potential travel test program partners.
Peter Ho, committee co-chairman and Bank of Hawaii CEO, said he hopes the communications plan can be finalized in the next week or so.
Delivering the message, according to Tatum, is expected to be carried out by industry stakeholders, including airlines, hotels, tour operators and others, along with state-funded marketing efforts that include social media.
State Rep. Richard Onishi (D, Hilo-Keaau) suggested that some federal coronavirus aid money received by the state could be used to help deliver the message.
Onishi said communication was lacking for the state’s existing 14-day quarantine policy for travelers, some of whom violated the requirement and have been arrested by law enforcement.
On Sunday, 461 visitors arrived, along with 501 returning residents, according to the HTA.
While visitor arrivals during the pandemic have been concerning to many residents, safely welcoming back more tourists to the state is key to reviving Hawaii’s economy. The state relies heavily on the tourism industry, which typically welcomes 35,000 passengers a day in June.
Tatum said part of the welcome-back message is intended to include information about what residents have been asked to do to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including personal hygiene practices and social distancing.
“We are going to be sharing and asking the visitors to do exactly the same thing,” he said. “And it’s also really important that we share with the visitors what their experience will be when they get here, because there will be a screening process, other than the pre-testing. They will still be getting a scan for their temperature; they’ll be asked for information so we can assist with contact tracing. So we’ve got a lot of information to share with the visitor so when they come in they know exactly what to expect. And once they get through that and they go through the right process, they’ll have a great time in Hawaii.”