The director of the state Department of Economic Development and Tourism said Friday he feels “confident the state is ready” to reopen the islands to increased tourism on Oct. 15.
On a Honolulu Star-Advertiser Facebook Live program, Mike McCartney said local government, the visitor industry and other business partners have “learned a lot in the last few month (and) studied what’s going on in the world.”
After three false starts, Gov. David Ige announced the date on which trans-Pacific travelers — visitors and returning residents alike — who have tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of arrival can avoid a 14-day quarantine.
“I believe travelers will come with the right intentions,” McCartney said. “… I think there’s going to be a few kinks, but we’re just going to do continuous improvement and continuous communication to the visitor, the traveler (and) the resident. And the key to all this is we want our employees to feel safe, we want our guests to feel safe, (and) we want the community to feel safe.”
In addition to partnerships between the state, CVS, Walgreen’s and Kaiser Permanente to test travelers at their own expense, both United and Hawaiian airlines have started rapid testing programs for travelers at certain mainland departure points.
Outrigger Hotels and Resorts President and CEO Jeff Wagoner said the visitor industry is “ready in a big way” for the reopening to visitors.
“We’ve done lot of preparing,” Wagoner said. “We’ve had a couple of opportunities to start, and it didn’t happen. So we’ve been prepared for awhile, and we’re truly looking forward to getting Hawaii open.”
Wagoner said the partners are coordinating efforts for a marketing campaign to visitors aimed at making travelers feel comfortable and safe coming here. He said face masks will be a part of the imaging in that campaign.
“It’s important to us that this happens the right way. We’ve got one shot at this,” he said. “And if this goes south on us, it’s not good for any of us, not for the residents or for the industry, in general.”
“We’re the only state where we’re a destination,” McCartney added. “And so tourism is going to depend upon all of us to work together in a very responsible way to look at impacts, to look at how … we don’t let vacation rentals get out of control again, and we respect what communities are.”
According to Wagoner, there are “plenty of short-term vacation rentals that are in resort zones that … should be available.”
“What we don’t want is our communities overrun with tourists, so that people feel uncomfortable, even when they go home at night,” he said.
Citing DBEBT’s prediction of 7.2 million visitors in 2021 and a more conservative estimate by University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization of 4.7 visitors, Wagoner said, “I believe in both of those numbers, based on what we do and how we react to testing.”
“When you see what United did (and) what Hawaiian Airlines did, other airlines are going to follow,” he said. “And then tests are going to become cheaper, and they’re going to become quicker. And when all that happens, I think the number that Mike’s got, 7.2 million, is realistic.
“If we don’t get all the things in place, and we don’t handle this well, then (UHERO’s) number is probably more realistic. Clearly, though, we’ve got visitors that are pent up, that are ready to come back to Hawaii. But I don’t think you’re going to see the floodgates open.”
“I don’t know that we’re ever going back to 10-and-a-half million visitors, ever,” Wagoner continued. “I think what’s important to us is that people who come here respect what we have here in Hawaii. And you hear a lot about people saying now that they’re looking for more high-spending customers to come in here. What we really want is the people who come here to have respect.
“Some people save their entire life to come to Hawaii. It’s a dream of people.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.