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More Hawaii residents open to restarting tourism, survey finds

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Beachgoers gathered on the shores of Waikiki on Nov. 8

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Beachgoers gathered on the shores of Waikiki on Nov. 8

Hawaii residents surveyed in November show a shift that indicates they are more open to reopening their communities to tourism.

Still, more than half of the respondents lack trust in the state or travel industry to reopen safely during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The report, “Hawaii During COVID-19: A Community Impact Survey for November 2020,” is the third in a series of COVID-19 surveys developed by the University of Hawaii Public Policy Center in partnership with Ward Research to gain a better understanding of challenges that residents are facing in the outbreak.

The latest report was based on 616 residents statewide surveyed Nov. 9-17. The data was weighted by age, gender and ethnicity to reflect Hawaii’s adult demographic with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

Survey results showed residents’ views toward welcoming tourists have started to change for the first time since June.

Though 62% of the respondents said they do not want tourists to travel to the islands just yet, the percentage reflects a 20-percentage-point drop since the policy center’s June and August surveys.

The report also indicated that while residents are more open to tourism to refuel the economy, 54% of respondents have distrust in the state or travel industry to reopen tourism safely, an increase of 22 percentage points since June.

Colin Moore, associate professor of political science and director of the University of Hawaii Public Policy Center, who co- authored the report, attributes the lack of confidence to the fear of bringing COVID-19 to Hawaii as well as the confusion with the state’s pre-travel testing program.

John De Fries, president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said while the tourism industry would value a uniformity of policies and guidelines, he understands the different set of circumstances and different levels of health care capacities on the neighbor islands.

“Because we’re going through this for the first time as a statewide society, I’m confident we’ll continue to get better at it. But it’s been a challenge on all fronts, not just on the visitor industry,” De Fries said.

Respondents also show mixed feelings about the pre-travel testing program itself, with 50% who are confident in the program and 47% who are not.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Hawaii faced its worst outbreak in August when the daily case count surpassed 300. The surge occurred two months before the Oct. 15 launch of the pre-travel testing program for trans-Pacific travelers.

Since the implementation of the Safe Travels program, COVID-19 hospitalizations plummeted by more than half, with 48 people hospitalized as of Thursday compared with 103 on Oct. 15. The statewide positivity test rate also has dropped, to 1.6% from 2.7% in the time period.

Green said the number of confirmed cases statewide has been dropping.

“Without a doubt, the Safe Travels program has worked,” he said.

The survey pointed out Hawaii residents are satisfied with the state government in keeping communities safe from the outbreak.

Moore said, “Respondents find the state’s response to the pandemic to be satisfactory, with only 35% giving the state a low rating of 1-4. This is a significant improvement over our August survey, where 49% of respon­dents rated the state low (from 1-4).”

As Hawaii prepares to receive COVID-19 vaccines, 44% of residents surveyed indicated they would get the vaccine when it becomes available, a decrease from the August survey, where 51% of respondents in August said they would get a vaccine.

The report further revealed men (54%) are more likely to get a vaccine compared with women (34%). There are also differences based on ethnicity. Japanese respondents (58%) said they most likely will get vaccinated, compared with Caucasians (43%), Filipinos (38%) and Hawaiians (29%).

Regarding whether surveyed residents believe the pandemic will improve over the next several months, 35% of the respondents believe it will get better, while 54 percent say it will get worse.

Moore co-authored the November 2020 COVID-19 community impact survey report with assistant policy center specialist Sherilyn Hayashida and research assistant Robert Lanfranchi.

To see the report:

Visit publicpolicycenter.manoa.hawaii.edu.

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