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Pandemic drives sharp drop in Hawaii tourism, with arrivals down 75%

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                                Hawaii tourism enters the new year in critical condition, with visitor arrivals down 74% from the previous year. Above, Kalakaua Avenue looked barren Friday.


    Hawaii tourism enters the new year in critical condition, with visitor arrivals down 74% from the previous year. Above, Kalakaua Avenue looked barren Friday.

Stricken by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawaii tourism entered 2021 in critical condition with visitor arrivals down 74% from the previous year, according to preliminary statistics released Thursday by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

The agency reported 2.7 million visitor arrivals in 2020, when tourism shut down in mid-March as the virus took hold here and across the globe. That compares with 10.4 million arrivals in 2019.

The attempted reopening of tourism in the last quarter of 2020 through the state’s Safe Travels pre-arrival testing program didn’t do much to boost the industry’s vital signs, HTA reported, with December arrivals down 75% compared with the same month in 2019.

Only 235,793 visitors traveled to the islands last month, compared with 952,441 in December 2019, HTA said.

Even with COVID vaccinations taking place across the nation, visitor industry officials have said Hawaii tourism isn’t likely to experience a meaningful rebound until the third or fourth quarter of 2021, if then.

State Department of Health officials Thursday reported two new coronavirus-related deaths on Oahu and 100 additional infections, bringing the state’s totals since the start of the pandemic to 406 fatalities and 25,541 cases. The statistics reflect new cases reported to DOH on Tuesday.

The latest infections include 65 on Oahu, 21 on Maui, seven on Hawaii island, one on Lanai and six residents diagnosed outside of Hawaii, officials said. As a result of updated information, one case diagnosed outside the state was removed from the counts.

The latest COVID deaths were a man in his 70s and a woman in her 90s, both of whom were hospitalized and suffered from underlying medical conditions.

The state Department of Defense announced Thursday that seven Hawaii National Guardsmen who deployed to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19. All seven, who are asymptomatic, are isolating, and their fellow Guardsmen who tested negative are completing a 14-day quarantine.

The DOH also reported it is investigating two clusters associated with hotel and accommodation settings, involving nine cases so far. The department did not identify the properties, but said all the cases have been among employees, including those working in the housekeeping and concierge departments.

The state implemented its Safe Travels program Oct. 15, allowing passengers arriving from out of state to bypass a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test result from an approved test provider. Since then Hawaii’s travel restrictions have been tweaked on occasion, including a reduction of the quarantine period to 10 from 14 days effective Dec. 10.

The pre-arrival testing program was extended to visitors from Japan on Nov. 6, and on Wednesday Gov. David Ige announced that starting Feb. 5, travelers from South Korea also may take advantage of the Safe Travels program with a negative COVID-19 result from a test taken no earlier than 72 hours prior to leaving for Hawaii.

But travelers from many states and foreign countries, South Korea included, face the additional impediment of having to quarantine upon returning home, further discouraging tourism.

Other points from the HTA report:

>> Oahu welcomed 112,856 visitors in December, compared with 558,346 visitors in December 2019. Spending by domestic visitors during the month dropped nearly 80%, to $156.5 million. (Spending data for international visitors were not available.) For all of 2020, visitor arrivals dropped 75%, to 1.5 million.

>> Maui saw 90,605 visitors last month versus 275,419 visitors a year earlier. Visitor spending in December was down almost 64%, to $185.9 million. Total 2020 arrivals decreased 74%, to 791,660 visitors.

>> Kauai has had the tightest travel restrictions of all the counties, and it showed in the HTA statistics, with only 3,759 visitors arriving on the island in December, compared with 124,356 the previous year. Spending for the month cratered 94%, to $10.4 million. Visitor arrivals for all of 2020 dropped nearly 76%, to 330,954.

>> Hawaii island counted 48,134 visitors in December, compared with 177,912 visitors in 2019. Visitor spending for the month plunged nearly 63%, to $98 million. For all of 2020, arrivals fell 72%, to 492,325.

>> In December, total trans-Pacific air capacity declined roughly 52%, to 599,440 seats. Total air capacity statewide for the year decreased 61.8%, to 4.72 million seats, as a result of cutbacks in air service.

>> Most of the December visitors were from the U.S. West (151,988, a decline of 64%) and U.S. East (71,537, down 67%). Canada accounted for 3,833 visitors, a drop of 94%, and only 1,889 visitors came from Japan, a drop of almost 99%.

>> For the entire year, visitor arrivals by air from the U.S. West dropped 72%, to 1.3 million, and were down 70% from the U.S. East, to 676,061. Arrivals from Canada decreased 70%, to 161,201, and were down 81% from Japan, to 297,243.

>> Hawaii recorded zero cruise ship passengers in December due to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “no sail order.” In December 2019, 9,588 visitors came by air to board the Hawaii home-ported cruise ship, and 11,313 visitors came to the islands on six out-of-state cruise ships. For all of 2020, 20 out-of-state cruise ships brought 29,792 visitors to the islands, compared with 68 cruise ships that carried 143,508 visitors in 2019. Total cruise visitors dropped 81%, to 52,705.

Also Thursday, the DOH once again found itself defending its COVID vaccination program after the CDC released data showing Hawaii was one of 16 states that have used less than half of the doses they’ve received.

The CDC’s Vaccine Tracker shows Hawaii administering 103,944 of the 226,700 doses — or 46% — distributed to the state by the federal government, based on data received as of Thursday morning.

The CDC numbers do not match the data in the DOH’s official weekly vaccination report issued Wednesday, showing 203,600 doses allocated, 170,975 received and 106,654 doses administered statewide as of Sunday.

Based on those numbers, Hawaii has administered 52% of its allocations and 62% of the doses the state had actually received. And Thursday’s unofficial daily vaccination tally totaled 127,419 doses administered as of Wednesday.

Health officials were questioned by state lawmakers about the rate of vaccinations at a legislative briefing Tuesday.

DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo said Thursday the state is informed of its weekly federal vaccine allotment on Thursdays but might not receive the vaccines until Monday or Tuesday, perhaps due to the logistics of shipping them to Hawaii. And from there it might take another few days for processing before the shots are given.

“The other challenge is that some vaccinators in Hawaii are delaying their reporting into the national Vaccination Administration Management System which tracks the number of vaccinations administered (and is the basis for the CDC’s Vaccine Tracker). DOH is working with vaccinators statewide to decrease the time it takes for them to report their vaccination administration numbers,” Okubo said in an email.

Vaccinations across the islands have been accelerating in the past two weeks with the opening of mass vaccination clinics at Pier 2 and Blaisdell Concert Hall in Honolulu and other programs. Additionally, the White House announced this week that it would increase the weekly supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses sent to states.

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