Kauai businesses struggle under coronavirus travel policies

HONOLULU — Kauai ended a tourism shutdown earlier this month by allowing interisland travelers to return to the island, but the impact of the coronavirus on the economy is having devastating consequences.

The head of Hawaii’s lodging and tourism association said if Kauai tourism does not improve soon, many businesses are expected to fall off a cliff and take employees, contractors and vendors with them, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.

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Travel to Kauai plummeted after Mayor Derek Kawakami opted out of the state’s Safe Travels program Dec. 2, requiring all travelers to the island to undergo a mandatory 10-day quarantine with no option to test out.

The island changed course and permitted participation in Hawaii Safe Travels beginning Jan. 5 and introduced its own trans-Pacific entry program.

Options regarding testing and quarantine at resorts have been difficult to explain and harder to sell to potential visitors, said Mufi Hannemann, president of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association.

A December survey of Kauai businesses by the Kauai Chamber of Commerce and the tourism association’s Kauai chapter painted a bleak outlook for the island’s employment opportunities, health care benefits and business survival rates.

About 49% of respondents said they did not expect their businesses would survive more than 90 days without a significant return of tourism.

“Federal relief and state assistance will not be enough to spur economic recovery on the Garden Isle,” Hannemann said.

Hannemann said he is hopeful the mayor will “amend travel directives without compromising his healthy objectives if the current economic downturn worsens.”

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Kawakami last week said that during the pandemic there are consequences to every decision, and “most definitely, some of our policy calls have impacted the visitor industry and our economy negatively.”

But those policies also “made an impact as far as keeping this island healthy and safe and avoiding large outbreaks that overwhelmed our hospitals,” Kawakami said. “They’ve certainly played a part in maintaining very low positivity rates.”

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