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Changes in interisland travel due to be unveiled today

New rules for interisland travel in the era of COVID-19 are expected to be announced today by Gov. David Ige.

Ige offered no specifics Monday on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii program, but said the “important announcement” is intended to make it “easier for people to travel.”

Ige suggested that interisland travel will differ between residents and tourists.

“We realize that it would be a great opportunity for the local economy, especially for intercounty, and we do intend to implement something for intercounty first,” Ige said. “It gets a lot more complicated trying to verify vaccinations done in other states. That’s a bigger challenge, but we’re going to start with people vaccinated in the state of Hawaii first.

“We’re hopeful that if we can start with the state of Hawaii and those vaccinated in the state, and then that gives us additional time to really work to get tied into the national networks that a lot of these companies have established, that we’ll be able to role it out for trans-Pacific (travel) soon,” Ige said.

Hawaii is averaging 20,000 arrivals per day, and Ige said discussions continue with the Hawaii Tourism Authority on how to better manage the number of tourists and lessen potential conflicts with residents.

Asked about the possibility of significant taxes on tourists to deter travel, Ige suggested that the more urgent need is to clamp down on illegal vacation rentals.

“When virtually any home can be a hotel room, that really means that there’s an unlimited number of tourists who can be here,” Ige said. “We do want people who are respectful of the norms here. We want people who are respectful of our Native Hawaiian culture, and then finally we do want people who understand that we’re inviting them to be here and we expect them to not destroy our environment and to be respectful in our communities in exchange for inviting them to be here.”

At the same time, Ige said, “We need to look at caps on the number of visitors and find better way to share facilities (such as potentially) having some parks and some facilities open to residents only on weekends and visitors only during the weekdays. I think those kind of proposals and discussion have to happen. We need to find a better way to share Hawaii with visitors, and HTA funds and the tourist tax is a great opportunity for us to make those kinds of investments, have those discussions and really find a better way to have the No. 1 industry in our state.”

Ige cited a new master plan and restrictions at Haena State Park on the north shore of Kauai following devastating flooding in 2018.

“We’re limiting parking,” Ige said. “We’ve established a cap on the number of visitors who can attend the park.”

Nonprofit groups and local residents are also teaching tourists about the history of taro in the area.

Ige called the experience at Haena State Park a “glimpse of balance.”

The overall goal for Hawaii tourism is “not having to just go for 10 million and 12 million and 15 million,” Ige said. “It’s really about getting the best 8-or-so-million visitors who are willing to listen to our mandates, to respect our culture and our environment in a way that allows us to get a win-win situation.”

Asked about diversifying Hawaii’s economy to be less reliant on tourism, Ige said Hawaii needs to do more to create a digital workforce and industry, accelerate Hawaii’s transformation to clean, renewable energy and grow more local food.

“We need to be more self-reliant, and the more self-reliant we can be, the better off we are,” Ige said.

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