The state’s tourism reopening plan just took two new blows: Kauai wants out temporarily, and CVS, one of the state’s larger trusted-testing partners, has begun telling Hawaii travelers that they should make other coronavirus testing plans.
Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami sent a request Tuesday to Gov. David Ige to temporarily pause Kauai’s participation in the state’s Safe Travels pre-travel testing program. If Ige approves, as of Tuesday all incoming Kauai travelers — trans-Pacific and interisland — would be required to quarantine for the full 14 days regardless of testing.
Hawaii’s travel sellers reacted negatively to the news that Kauai wants to restrict all nonessential travel to the island again.
They also fear travel demand for Hawaii could weaken following a message from CVS that began appearing on the company’s website Friday: “We cannot guarantee a specific turnaround time on the lab tests accepted by Hawaii — travelers to Hawaii should make other testing plans.”
These latest two Hawaii tourism developments follow Ige’s Thursday announcement that went into effect Tuesday in which trans-Pacific passengers to Hawaii who can’t present an approved negative pre-departure test before getting on their last plane to Hawaii won’t be able to bypass the 14-day quarantine, even after their test results become available.
The policy shift comes at a time when travel demand already is expected to plummet due to surging COVID-19 cases and corresponding government lockdowns across the mainland. A warning from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid Thanksgiving travel hasn’t helped, either.
Data from Safe Travels Hawaii, the state’s visitor entry program, shows that visitor arrivals to Hawaii picked up from Nov. 18 to Saturday, when 15,986 passengers arrived in Hawaii, some 10,152 of them here for vacation or pleasure. However, the numbers have been dipping again since Sunday.
Tuesday’s tighter entry requirements are expected to cause further dampening to Hawaii tourism, which wasn’t doing all that well to begin with. Only 76,613 visitors traveled to Hawaii by air service in October as compared with 796,191 visitors who came by air service and cruise ships in October 2019, according to preliminary statistics released Tuesday by the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Tourism Research Division. October’s numbers brought the count of visitors in the first 10 months to 2,296,622, which was down 73.4% from the prior year.
The state’s decision to stop allowing those with pending tests an opportunity to shorten their quarantine was the catalyst for CVS’ new messaging, which began appearing on its website Friday evening.
CVS spokesman Joseph Goode said in an email, “Patient samples collected at our COVID-19 drive-thru testing sites are sent off-site to independent, third-party labs that are responsible for processing the results. On average, test results are typically available in 3-4 days, but currently may take longer due to the surge in COVID-19 cases and increased testing demand during the holiday season.”
“We cannot guarantee a lab test result within the 72-hour window that the state requires and are asking travelers to Hawaii to make other testing plans,” Goode said. “We regret any inconvenience.”
Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, said the company has pulled CVS from all its Hawaii marketing — which is too bad since it offered 2,800 testing sites across the U.S.
Richards said Pleasant Holidays also is anxiously awaiting Ige’s decision on Kauai.
“It’s hard for travelers to know what’s going on when the ball keeps moving,” Richards said. “Since Thursday we’ve already been getting major cancellations for Christmas and New Year’s. New bookings are grinding to a halt.”
Keith Vieira, principal of KV & Associates, Hospitality Consulting, said all of the hotels that he monitors have had “significantly more cancellations than bookings” every day since Ige’s latest policy change.
“When you are going backwards on reservations, there is no recovery,” Vieira said.
Travelers, who are considering taking trips to Hawaii but don’t know the geography, might mistakenly think that the whole state is closed, Vieira said. Bookings across the state faltered in 2018 when Kilauea Volcano erupted, he said.
Richards said an abrupt Kauai tourism shutdown will cause some scrambling travelers to cancel their Hawaii trips, which could hurt other counties given that many visitors to Hawaii have multi-island itineraries.
It also could cause travelers to second-guess booking a trip to Hawaii, where entry requirements and rules are constantly changing, he said.
Kawakami told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Tuesday that Kauai’s request to opt out of Safe Travels Hawaii was temporary but would likely last at least four weeks.
“Our sense of urgency has ramped up,” Kawakami said.
Kauai has had five dozen cases, mostly travel-related, and its first on-island death since the launch of the single pre-travel testing program Oct. 15. Kawakami said the amount of visitors who arrived on Kauai with a negative COVID-19 test only to test positive later has created angst for the county along with those travelers who came in with a pending test and then received positive results.
“In a sense, the governor covered that part by requiring travelers to have their negative test result uploaded before departure,” he said. “But at this point in time we feel in order to keep our economy open and remain in Tier 4 — the least restrictive tier — we have to take bold proactive measures to get in front of this virus.”
Kawakami said Kauai’s previously low COVID-19 cases allowed it to “keep our economy open and undisrupted — giving consumers a level of confidence that we feel is supreme on Kauai.”
Kawakami said if Kauai is allowed to opt out of Safe Travels Hawaii, members of Kauai’s visitor industry could revert to resort bubbles.
In September, Ige approved Kawakami’s request to allow visitors at participating resorts to leave their hotel rooms to utilize the resort’s property, including pools and on-site restaurants, during their mandatory quarantine period, which would be monitored.
“One of our contingency plans if we had to be more restrictive with travel was to create that resort bubble, so it is an option for travelers and resorts to consider,” Kawakami said. “I guess it’s a much more pleasant experience versus a 14-day quarantine in a hotel room.”
Sarah Blane, Kauai County spokeswoman, said five resorts on Kauai have been approved to run resort bubbles, and several more requests are pending. Hokuala — a Timbers Resort on Kauai already has been operating a resort bubble since the Oct. 15 travel reopening, she said.