Officials worried new state restrictions will slow tourism

Gov. David Ige’s announcement last week imposing new restrictions for trans-Pacific travelers seeking to avoid quarantine needs to be amended, said several figures in the tourism industry Monday.

During a meeting of the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness, many attendees complained that Ige’s proclamation on Thursday that tightened restrictions on travel will cause undue harm to the state’s economy and should have been discussed with more stakeholders before being declared.

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“I have grave concerns about this,” said Mufi Hannemann, president of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association.

Hannemann said the new announcement will slow the much-needed return of tourists and cause prospective travelers to look elsewhere.

“It’s not just about cancellations, but there are people who are looking, who are considering coming here. They’ll see this, and they’ll decide otherwise,” Hannemann said.

Rep. Richard Onishi, who represents Hilo, said some Big Island residents have told him that they have been simply unable to obtain COVID-19 test results quickly enough to meet the new requirements.

Under the new restriction, which go into effect today, a traveler must still take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their final arrival in the state in order to avoid the 14-day quarantine. However, the traveler will now be required to present their test results by the time they embark on the final leg of their journey to the state.

Under the previous plan, if a traveler’s test results were not ready by the time they arrived, they would have to quarantine for two weeks, but could have their quarantine cut short if their negative test results came in during that time. However, under the new rules, if a traveler does not have their test results before boarding their final flight to Hawaii, that traveler will have to quarantine for two full weeks, even if they receive a negative result within 14 days of arriving.

Hannemann said the new terms will punish conscientious travelers who, “through no fault of their own, don’t have their results on time.”

The general consensus during the committee meeting appeared to be that Ige had not sufficiently consulted with the tourism industry when formulating the new requirements. Wendy Laros, executive director of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, said she was “very surprised” when Ige made his announcement, and that she had not been privy to prior discussion of the plan.

House Speaker Scott Saiki said the plan was the result of discussions that took place only between Ige and the state’s mayors.

“The governor shouldn’t make these abrupt decisions without consulting with other people,” Saiki said. “He needs to talk to more people, to the people who are being affected by this.”

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The criticism of the new requirements ironically came after an optimistic report about the state’s economic outlook. Carl Bonham, executive director of the University of Hawaii’s Economic Research Organization, told the committee statewide employment increased by 30% in October and that economic projections for the state were on trend to continue to rise through the winter.

However, with COVID-19 case numbers reaching record highs across the mainland — and with U.S. Congressman Ed Case telling the committee that a second federal aid package is “possible but not probable” before the end of the year — the state’s tourism remains in a precarious position, Hannemann said.

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