Would this be a good time to bring tourists back?
Well, no. The number of dally coronavirus cases are hitting record highs. Oahu is under another strict lockdown. The U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, visiting Hawaii this week, warned that the numbers, both in cases and positivity rates, are likely to go even higher. Lifting the 14-day quarantine on trans-Pacific travel seems ill-advised at the moment.
Meanwhile, though, more sobering news: the July visitor arrival numbers showed a 98% drop from July 2019, a startling figure even in this year of unprecedented tourism decline. June showed a similar drop. The longer this lasts, industry experts say, the more difficult it will be for tourism-related businesses to rebound, if they even survive.
So everyone’s looking for ways out. Last week, Gov. David Ige gave counties permission to explore “resort travel bubbles.” Visitors would still endure a 14-day quarantine, but would do so at participating resorts and hotels, not locked in their rooms but enjoying the amenities. They just couldn’t leave; a geofencing app or device would ensure they don’t stray from the resort boundaries.
It seems unlikely that such a program would make much of a dent in the woeful arrival numbers. Most visitors want to tour the islands, not just their hotel. And many potential problems would need to be worked out: What happens if a visitor contracts the virus? How will resort employees be protected? What about liability?
Still, supporters of the concept say it’s a start, like a soft opening. Given the stress and dreariness of pandemic living — masked up, locked up at home — a chance to escape to a tropical resort may sound pretty good.
Reopening, even just a little, will require care. But there is hope. More types of tests, easier to take and with quicker results, are coming online. Adams brought with him about 70,000 tests that don’t require a deep nose-dive with a long swab. A saliva-based test being developed by Hawaii company Oceanit provides results in 10 minutes or less. A vaccine lies just over the horizon. Meanwhile, Hawaii’s airports are installing new thermal screening and facial recognition technology to allow for passenger screening with fewer employees — a necessity if we get more visitors.
To bring back tourism, we will need to weave a sturdy safety net of reliable testing, monitoring and, if necessary, quarantining. But people are working on it.
And you know how we can all help: with masks, physical distancing and a lot of hand-washing.