Tourism industry could benefit from new federal rules

HONOLULU — New federal rules for international travelers are expected to help Hawaii’s crippled tourism industry.

The state’s international market has been nearly nonexistent since the pandemic largely shut down travel last year.

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Last week, the White House loosened rules that previously prohibited some foreign travelers from coming to the U.S. Foreign visitors can now come with proof of vaccination and negative COVID-19 tests.

U.S. citizens and residents who are not vaccinated can also travel into the U.S. from other countries, but they must test twice — once before travel and again after arrival.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday that the changes could revive international travel back to the islands. It is down 97% compared to before the pandemic.

Currently, Hawaii only requires proof of vaccination or a single pre-flight test for mainland U.S. travelers. The state had also allowed travel with the same rules from some countries — including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Canada, Tahiti and the Philippines.

Some see the new rules as more restrictive for Japanese travelers, a major component of Hawaii’s tourism industry.

Dave Erdman, president of a Pacific marketing company, said Japanese media described the new rules differently than U.S. media outlets. The new policy adds a step for Japanese travelers by requiring vaccinations for entry.

“In the U.S./Hawaii, the media described the change as ‘loosening’ restrictions for travelers wanting to come to the U.S. But the Japanese media described the change as U.S. ‘tightening’ restrictions,’” Erdman said.

Japan and other key markets for Hawaii tourism have high vaccination rates and officials expect that trend to continue in coming months.

“Hawaii’s key international source markets are on-track to exceed U.S. vaccination levels — so this will be timely for safe travel,” said Danny Ojiri, vice president of market development for Outrigger Hospitality Group, a Honolulu-based luxury hotel chain and management company. “After a slow start earlier in the year, Japan’s vaccination effort has moved forward at a brisk pace; at this time 55% fully vaccinated with 67% receiving their first shot.”

Ojiri added: “The expectation is for Japan’s population to be at least 75% vaccinated by November.”

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Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Alex Da Silva said the company is “prepared to resume routes once restrictions relax and demand returns.”

“The announcement is good news and an important step toward re-enabling travel to the United States — and Hawaii — from additional international destinations with a standard set of safety protocols,” Da Silva said. “This approach is consistent with procedures already in place at countries we serve, and we look forward to learning details of the program in coming weeks.”

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