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Tourism: Hawaii residents’ reaction to rebound from pandemic uncertain

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Business in Waikiki is beginning to pick up as tourists return and people get vaccinated. Pedestrians crossed Kalakaua Avenue on Saturday at the International Market Place.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Business in Waikiki is beginning to pick up as tourists return and people get vaccinated. Pedestrians crossed Kalakaua Avenue on Saturday at the International Market Place.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                At Dylan’s Candy Bar in the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa, sisters Victoria and Chelsea Graves took a selfie Saturday in front of a giant lollipop display.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    At Dylan’s Candy Bar in the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa, sisters Victoria and Chelsea Graves took a selfie Saturday in front of a giant lollipop display.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Waikiki is seeing more foot traffic as the pace of tourism quickens.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Waikiki is seeing more foot traffic as the pace of tourism quickens.

With bookings up, it’s uncertain how island residents will respond to tourism’s sudden rebound, House Speaker Scott Saiki said Wednesday.

“We’ve told the public all along that tourism would restart slowly and safely,” Saiki said. “It may not be slow. We may see a sudden increase. We’ve already begun seeing increased numbers. But in a month, or in two months, we are going to see a big increase. And I’ve said this before, I’m not sure how the public will react to that.”

Just this month, the Hawaii Tourism Authority has reported 126,525 travel agency bookings to Hawaii. That’s still down from the pre-COVID-19 pandemic level of 202,049 bookings in April 2019.

But tourism bookings for the fourth quarter of this year — 49,394 — already are above the fourth-quarter performance of 44,364 bookings in 2019, according to the HTA.

Saiki referred to a report in Monday’s Honolulu Star- Advertiser that bookings of short-term vacation rentals — often located in residential neighborhoods — have outpaced hotel bookings every month since October.

For residents, Saiki said, “that’s not good.”

Saiki made his comments Wednesday while announcing that he had requested to kill a bill that he introduced in January that would have mandated statewide travel rules, saying COVID-19 conditions have since changed.

Saiki said he asked House Finance Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Luke to defer action on Senate Bill 266 when it went before her committee Wednesday.

SB 266 would create a statewide “Safe Travels” policy, reversing what Saiki called Gov. David Ige’s “county-by-county approach to decision making.”

The bill is no longer necessary since Kauai has rejoined the state’s Safe Travels program and COVID- 19 vaccines are more readily available, Saiki said.

“We’re going to just kill this bill — kill this off and not move it out of the House,” Saiki said.

Maui County has asked Ige to require arriving travelers to undergo a second COVID-19 test, along with a pilot program for a so-called vaccine passport.

Despite the request, Saiki said that travel rules are much clearer.

“I don’t think it’s as confusing now,” he said. “… Now that Kauai has opted back in, hopefully it is clearer for travelers.”

Instead, Saiki said that Ige should have mandated unrestricted interisland travel rules two months ago and said that Ige should do so “sooner rather than later,” especially ahead of the Fourth of July weekend.

“Hawaii residents understand the need for public health and sanitization,” Saiki said. “Our residents are very careful about that so the governor needs to factor that all in and reopen neighbor island travel sooner rather than later.”

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