Tourists should stay away from Hawaii, and residents should restrict travel to essential business only at least through the end of October, Gov. David Ige said Monday.
“Now’s not a good time to visit Hawaii,” Ige initially told told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii livestream program Monday — a sentiment he later repeated at an afternoon news conference. “We have limited capacity in the restaurants, we see continuing case counts here.”
“I expect cooperation from the visitor industry,” Ige said. “They certainly don’t like it, but they are supportive of getting that message out. … They want to be helpful in stemming this surge in COVID cases.”
“Most” new cases are the result of residents traveling off-island and coming back home to spread COVID-19 in the community, Ige said.
“I’m asking all residents and visitors alike to restrict travel, curtail travel, to Hawaii to essential activities only.”
Asked about the possibility of another statewide shutdown, which crippled the visitor industry in 2020 and led to the highest unemployment rate and worst economy in the nation, Ige said:
“Another shutdown is really the last resort.”
Ige’s calls for limits on both tourist and resident travel generated immediate concerns, questions and, in some cases, criticisms.
“There are so many questions that need to be answered,” said House Speaker Scott Saiki, co- chairman of the House Select Committee on COVID-19, which is expected to discuss the ramifications of Ige’s announcement next week.
“I don’t see how the governor’s request will improve COVID numbers in Hawaii,” Saiki said. “The governor should have asked unvaccinated people not to travel to Hawaii. He should have also made a statement that he discouraged travel to hot spots like Las Vegas, if that’s what the data shows.”
State Sen Glenn Wakai, chairman of the Senate Energy, Economic Development, Tourism and Tech- nology Committee, said that Ige’s travel recommendations were overdue.
“He should have done that last month,” Wakai said. “Things are only going to get worse. It’s really government’s role to keep the population safe. For him to have waited until this point is a mistake.”
Asked about the potential economic impact from discouraging tourism, Wakai said, “There’s always that concern. I’m far more concerned with the public- health impact. If the economy’s going to take a short vacation, then so be it.”
Just as the economy rebounded faster than expected late last year, Wakai said the economy also could see a comeback “perhaps even more so than what we’ve seen this summer.”
Wakai agreed that Ige’s call to tourists could be designed to placate anti- tourism unrest as island tourism has come roaring back.
“Somehow we believe that the tourists are the scoundrels in all this, when it’s not just them,” he said. “Locals are partially to blame. Locals are sometimes bad actors as well. It’s unfortunate that all of our economic and environmental and health issues have been pointed at the tourists.”
Ige’s call to restrict travel through the end of October coincides with Hawaii’s traditionally slower “shoulder season” and could limit the effect on an economy that already was seeing visitor cancellations in August as COVID-19 cases spiked around the country.
“It’s hard to know what the effect the governor asking visitors not to come will bear, because visitors are already choosing not to come,” said Carl Bonham, executive director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization and a member of the state House Select Committee on COVID-19.
Regardless, Bonham said Ige’s announcement is likely to make national news and have the intended effect of dampening isle tourism.
“We all understand what he’s saying,” Bonham said. “Nonessential travel does not make much sense, but it comes at a really bad time. Ideally, we would have stopped the spread of the delta (variant) and we would have had this under control, which is obviously not the case.”