Japanese visitors, the state’s top international market, will be allowed to participate in Hawaii’s pre-arrivals testing program starting next month.
Government officials in Hawaii and Japan have agreed on a testing protocol, which starts Nov. 4 in Japan with the first travelers arriving Nov. 6 on incoming flights to Hawaii.
Gov. David Ige said the agreement is “another step forward in the Safe Travels Hawaii program” and that it adds an “additional layer of safety for our community as we take important strides to get people back to work.”
The agreement allows Japanese travelers to visit Hawaii under the same program as domestic passengers. Since Oct. 15, domestic travelers have been able to bypass the state’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine if they can provide proof of a negative NAAT test taken from a trusted partner 72 hours prior to the last leg of their departure for Hawaii.
The state Department of Health approved the COVID-19 Nucleic Acid Amplification Test authorized by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare back on Oct. 14. But it took nearly two weeks more for officials to agree on a list of approved testing partners in Japan, which now can be found at www.Hawaiicovid19.com.
Japanese visitors can find more information on www.Allhawaii.jp, the main Hawaii Tourism Japan website that houses COVID-19 information.
Ige said the agreement with Japan will kick off with 21 trusted testing partners. Ige said All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines have announced the return of service and between them are offering 10 scheduled flights for November.
Travelers coming from other international destinations still are excluded from participating in the state’s pre-arrivals testing program until they too get state-approved exemptions. Ige’s original pre-arrivals order said that tests must be processed by laboratories that are licensed or certified by Clinical Laboratories Improvement Amendments of specimens for nucleic acid amplification testing approved or authorized by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration.
“We are working on Canada, South Korea, Taiwan and we’ve had discussions with New Zealand and Australia,” Ige said.
The return of visitors from Japan to Hawaii is expected to go slowly, with this year’s totals falling far short of the 1.57 million visitor arrivals from Japan that came to the state in 2019 and generated nearly $2.2 billion in spending.
“Right, now, we believe only a few thousand visitors from Japan will come to Hawaii and we expect that we’ll finish the year just shy of 300,000 arrivals,” said Eric Takahata, managing director for Hawaii Tourism Japan, Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Japan marketing contractor.
Oahu will benefit the most from the restart of visitor from Japan, which isn’t likely to be robust at first. There aren’t any flights currently scheduled to travel from Japan to Hawaii island, the state’s other international port of entry, through the end of the year, Takahata said.
Demand may be tempered by a requirement from the Japanese government that Japanese nationals traveling abroad complete a 14-day quarantine upon returning to their country. Also, the Japanese government still has the U.S. listed under a level three travel restriction, which advises Japanese citizens to “reconsider travel” to the U.S.
Given these impediments, Takahata said the first travelers from Japan who come to Hawaii through the testing program are likely to be more affluent, repeat travelers, who are traveling independently rather than as part of a group.