The first tourists to travel in Hawaii who don’t have to quarantine start arriving today, but they are coming to a state that’s divided over their return.
Some Hawaii residents say with coronavirus already having caused 183 deaths and 13,674 cases here, they fear reopening tourism with the pandemic ongoing could lead to greater health concerns. They worry Hawaii’s pre-arrival testing plan isn’t stringent enough and would prefer that travelers aren’t allowed to bypass the 14-day quarantine until there are better measures to stem the spread of coronavirus.
However, after seven months of a tourism lockdown, many other residents and businesses recognize the pandemic also has taken an unhealthy toll on the economy. Some 150,000 Hawaii jobs have been lost, while 11,000 residents have not been able to keep up with their rent and 40,000 have had to get health insurance through Med-QUEST, the state’s health insurance plan for low-income adults and families.
The division is evident even outside of Hawaii. On Saturday, the headline on a widely circulated USA Today article was “Hawaii vacations become a lot easier Thursday, but are tourists really welcome?”
Gov. David Ige, who made news in March when he asked visitors to stay away from Hawaii during the pandemic, invited them back Tuesday when he unwrapped details of a pre-arrival testing program. Starting today, travelers who provide written confirmation from a state-approved COVID-19 testing partner of a negative test result from a test administered within 72 hours of the final leg of departure are allowed to bypass the quarantine.
Still, there are lots of unanswered questions about the finer details of the program, which differs by county. Businesses want to know when tourism demand to Hawaii will return. Visitors want to know if it’s safe to come to Hawaii, how to get here, and what they can do once they arrive. Residents, who are still in various stages of local lockdowns, want to know if they should worry about public safety.
Hawaii’s visitor industry and visitor-dependent businesses might not be able to answer everything about the logistics or medical science of tourists returning to Hawaii. However, Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association President and CEO Mufi Hannemann said they can assure residents and visitors they will do their part to keep them safe once tourism reopens.
Hannemann said the details are part of a campaign called “Makaukau — We Are Ready,” which launches today. The campaign’s hashtag is #weareready and its website is makaukau.com.
The campaign’s main sponsors — HLTA, Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, Hawaii Agricultural Foundation and Hawaiian Airlines — also have garnered support for the endeavor from Hawaiian Electric Industries, Central Pacific Bank, Bank of Hawaii World Elite Mastercard, American Savings Bank, Hawaii Farm Bureau, Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, Fund for the Pacific Century and Hawaii Community Foundation.
The privately funded campaign is deliberately timed to coincide with the start of Hawaii’s pre-arrivals testing program. The timing also aims to fill a gap since Hawaii Tourism Authority’s paid marketing won’t start until after the November election.
“We want to show the world that the industry is ready to provide a safe, clean and healthy environment for our visitors as well as our employees and associates,” Hannemann said. “Support for tourism has wavered during the pandemic.”
Chamber of Commerce Hawaii President and CEO Sherry Menor-McNamara said more than 40% of Hawaii businesses that were surveyed in August said they couldn’t reopen until tourism restarts.
“Their situations have worsened as we’ve moved into October,” Menor-McNamara said. “There’s an urgent need to get our commerce going again.”
Still, Kauai resident Megan Wong worries that reopening is coming too soon, even though she’s a single mother who has seen her vacation rental cleaning business dry up during the pandemic.
“We should be putting heath before wealth. It’s really backwards that we are reopening tourism when our kids can’t even go back to school without restrictions,” Wong said. “Many people on Kauai believe that a pandemic is not the time to reopen tourism. If tourists come now, they may not be feeling the aloha spirit that they come for. There could be protests on our island.”
The multiplatform media campaign will aim to bring the community, local businesses and tourism together through TV, digital and social media advertising. It will focus on informing visitors and residents about all of the health procedures, hygiene standards and safety protocols that have been generated by organizations like HLTA, Retail Merchants of Hawaii, Hawaii Restaurant Association and A3H, which represents activities and attractions.
Hannemann said it was clear from the start that Hawaii tourism couldn’t reopen successfully unless public officials and the community were confident they could operate safely within the parameters set by state and county officials.
The campaign’s video ads, 808ne.ws/WeAreReadyvideo, will feature updated health and hygiene practices — from temperature checks to new cleaning policies.
The Prince Waikiki, which is reopening Nov. 1, is one of the properties spotlighted in the campaign.
Josh Hargrove, Prince Waikiki general manager, said the property has made pandemic investments such as upgrading to medical-grade cleaning chemicals, purchasing electrostatic sprayers and hand-sanitizing stations and installing signage and Plexiglas barriers. The hotel also has outfitted public restrooms with touchless paper towel dispensers, toilets and faucets.
Hargrove said it was months ago that the property established an employee Ambassador Council, whose members included managers and line employees, to ensure workers feel safe to return to their jobs.
“Two weeks ago, we went around the room and I said, ‘I want you to tell me if you feel we are ready and it’s safe to return to work,’” Hargrove said. “When the answer was unanimous, I felt very confident that we have all the pieces in place that we need to reopen.”
Angela Keen, spokeswoman for Hawaii Kapu Quarantine Breakers, said the visitor industry’s investment in safety and the campaign will be important to recovering Hawaii tourism.
“I know there will be issues when we reopen tourism. I know of people who are already making T-shirts. The other day I saw one that said, ‘Aloha. Go Home. You’re killing us,’” she said.
Keen said she would never allow her group, which has been instrumental in helping catch quarantine breakers, to engage in “reckless disobedience or tourist shaming” because it’s not the “way to fix problems.”
She’s advocating instead for hooponopono, the Hawaiian concept of healing.