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Kauai tourism set to reopen despite vast flooding

  • JAMM AQUINO / 2018 
                                Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said the Garden Isle will reopen to tourism despite the recent floods. Visitors to Hanalei walk by a variety of businesses before the COVID-19 pandemic affected the state.

    JAMM AQUINO / 2018

    Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said the Garden Isle will reopen to tourism despite the recent floods. Visitors to Hanalei walk by a variety of businesses before the COVID-19 pandemic affected the state.

Before last week’s flooding, Kauai was preparing to reopen to tourism on April 5 — a step that would aid the continued recovery of the state’s economy.

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said he’s sticking to that plan.

Kauai is “locked in and set” to ease travel restrictions, “but we do have to get through today,” Kawakami said Friday.

With the announcement that Kauai would ease travel restrictions, airlines have moved to increase flights.

Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Alex Da Silva said the carrier will increase interisland service to and from Lihue starting next month.

Da Silva said that includes bringing back its nonstop Kahului-Lihue flights effective April 7, “to continue to support the travel needs of our kamaaina and visitors as well as the safe reopening of the state’s economy.”

“We also look forward to resuming our nonstop flights between the U.S. mainland and Kauai later this spring as demand returns,” Da Silva said.

Alaska Airlines spokesman Daniel Chun said the carrier will restart its serv­ice to Lihue on April 5 with two daily flights from Seattle.

Kauai’s tourism recovery could be complicated by the damage left by last week’s heavy rain. On Thursday a mudslide cut off access to the Kauai’s popular north shore community. Kawa­kami said Friday that it would take at least until Tuesday before one lane into the community could be reopened providing access.

Kawakami visited the area Friday afternoon.

“When we left the site, it was overcast,” he said, “but within 20 minutes of leaving the site, we had an unexpected — I would call it like a rain bomb, very much similar to 2018. We are getting flooding in Koloa as we speak. We are getting flooding in areas of Kalaheo. Our dispatch is lighting up.”

Kawakami said the current crisis is similar to the April 2018 landslide in Wainiha that shut down the same highway and forced residents and businesses to live under a convoy system that restricted access to the region for 14 months. While some welcomed the break from tourism, it was devastating for tourism-dependent businesses and workers.

“We have to see what infrastructure has been compromised. Fortunately, our whole island is a visitor destination in and of itself, so people can still come and enjoy Kauai,” he said.

Travel to Kauai plummeted after Kawakami opted out of the state’s Safe Travels program, effective Dec. 2, requiring all travelers to Kauai to undergo a mandatory 10-day quarantine with no option to test out. At the time, Kawakami said he was concerned that an increase in travel-related COVID-19 cases on Kauai could increase community spread and strain the island’s limited health care resources.

Other islands allow visitors to avoid quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19 using the Safe Travels Hawaii program.

On Thursday only 688 travelers registered with Safe Travels Hawaii were Lihue bound, as compared with 9,752 for Honolulu, 6,683 for Kahului, 3,709 for Kona and 813 for Hilo. While the most dramatic impacts of Kauai’s withdrawal from Safe Travels Hawaii have been felt on that island, tourism industry leaders have said increased confusion over the state’s differing travel requirements has dampened tourism statewide.

Starting April 5, trans-Pacific travelers who successfully participate in the state’s Safe Travels pre-travel testing program will be exempt from Kauai’s 10-day quarantine. However, there may be parts of Kauai, especially on the north shore, that aren’t readily accessible due to fallout from the flooding.

“They are looking forward to April 5 as a return to Safe Travels, so we have to work carefully to see how we can continue to have commerce in that area, because this is going to be a prolonged project,” Kawakami said. “We may be able to open up access, but it’s going to be limited in scope.”

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