HONOLULU — The Safe Travels application, starting Tuesday, will become the newest mandatory requirement for travelers flying into Hawaii.
The app, travel.hawaii.gov, collects health and travel information to help with the public-safety-motivated screening of travelers in a COVID-19 world.
Here’s how it works: A traveler completes an online application and receives a QR code (like a square bar code). The screener, a person at the airport who uses an iPad to read the QR code, is then able to quickly review passenger information for clearance or secondary screening.
Visitors may use email, Google or Facebook logins to visit the app, which is built on a Google cloud. The state says that travelers without smartphones or computers may ask friends or family for assistance or receive assistance at the arrival airport. Those without email addresses will need to create one to comply with quarantine requirements.
A mandatory 14-day quarantine remains in effect for out-of-state travelers to reduce the spread of COVID-19. A partial interisland quarantine also was reinstated on Aug. 11.
Once a traveler’s information is in the system, it can be used by officials, including police, to check on visitors who are required to quarantine for 14 days. It also allows them to automatically generate quarantine check-in reminders as emails and text messages and makes it easier for the state Department of Health to reach out if there are medical issues to address.
It isn’t set up to allow GPS tracking to ping a visitor’s phone or computer for a location. State Chief Information Officer Doug Murdock said that feature is still under review.
Even so, officials say the new app is critical to a multistep screening process, which includes arrival temperature checks, and secondary screening for those with symptoms or temperatures of 100.4 degrees or higher.
“I am pleased to launch this digital app which will allow our travelers to provide their required health and travel information before they arrive at the airport,” Gov. David Ige said Friday in a statement. “It will also help us keep in contact with those who are required to be in quarantine. This is an important step in preparing to reopen our economy.”
The app is expected to simplify the paper-based process, which currently requires different forms for interisland and trans-Pacific travel. Murdock said, though, travelers are still required to manually fill out the state Agricultural Declaration Form and the optional Hawaii Tourism Authority visitor data form on the backside.
Travelers have complained that the paper-based process is confusing. It hasn’t been very popular, either, with tourism officials, who have had to scan the “Mandatory State of Hawaii Travel and Health Form” late into the night. The multistep manual entry process sometimes kept Department of the Attorney General and county law enforcement officials from getting the real-time information that they needed to protect the public.
Murdock said the online app will save travelers, screeners and tourism and law enforcement officials time.
He said it doesn’t yet verify addresses, which still must be checked at the airport. But it does verify phone numbers and emails prior to arrival, Murdock said.
“If you can save a minute per traveler and you have 100 people on the plane, it saves lots of time,” he said.
Murdock said the app also will allow the state to quit scanning the paper form, which had been costing $160, 000 a month.
“After a month or two, we’ll have made back the money. We won’t be doing scanning and it will cover its cost in that way,” he said.
This is the second go-round for Safe Travels, which first debuted in May but wasn’t all that successful because it was optional. Then, the state hired Esri, a California software company, which developed a Safe Travels application for interisland use.
The application was up and running for interisland travel in July. But the state wasn’t satisfied that the application could be scaled up for trans-Pacific travel and abruptly removed the website, leaving tourism officials inundated with calls.
Flash forward to the latest Safe Travels effort, which is a product of Google and its partner SpringML, who were hired by the state Office of Enterprise Technology Services on July 27 at an initial cost of $638,000 in CARES Act funds.
Murdock said there could be some additional costs for the Google system if the state decides to add more features such as voice box or upgraded dashboards.
If that occurred, Murdock said the state has additional CARES Act funds that it could draw down.
Caroline Julian-Freitas, senior communications manager for the Office of Enterprise Technology Services, said if the Esri plan had moved forward, the total contract would have been worth $1.7 million in CARES Act funds.
Murdock said the state and Esri haven’t settled on a final payout, but he expects it to be around $150,000.
The Google version was supposed to be done by Aug. 17. There were some delays, which left the counties without a statewide application for the return of a partial interisland quarantine, which was restarted Aug. 11.
The counties had been using their own systems, but now everything is expected to be streamlined.
Keith Vieira, principal of KV &Associates, Hospitality Consulting, said streamlining is needed.
“The last time I traveled to the neighbor islands, I had to fill out six forms and nobody looked at any of them,” Vieira said. “It was ridiculous.”