When will tourists be welcomed back? The best-case scenario is predicting the end of July

Updated: May. 4, 2020 at 5:20 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Government officials, economists and business experts are working on a comprehensive plan to restart more businesses that cater to Hawaii residents.

But they say restarting tourism — the lifeblood of Hawaii’s economy — is another matter altogether.

The governor has already relaxed restrictions on some businesses — including florists and dentists — and said Monday that more will be given the green light to reopen soon.

Mark Mugiishi, president & CEO of HMSA and a top adviser on the state’s committee charged with rebooting the economy, said the goal is to have “one unified plan” to start opening up.

Among the companies that have started back up: Pacific Ceiling Fans in Aiea.

Manager Blaine Malczon said their products keep other projects going.

“Not holding up contractors. People doing remodeling, hotels now doing remodeling. Some restaurants have the opportunity to do things now that they’re closed," he said.

Tanioka’s Seafood and Catering in Waipahu also started welcoming customers.

As a take-out restaurant, Tanioka’s could have reopened sooner but wanted to institute more safety measures.

Curbside pickup is now offered, only five customers are allowed inside at a time, and those waiting outside have markings to properly distance. Employees are also separated from those ordering using plexiglass.

The University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization predicts that most companies that cater to Hawaii residents will be able to reopen by the end of the month.

And by the end of the year, said UHERO Executive Director Carl Bonham, “we anticipate the local economy having regained about 75% of the lost activity."

He added, “We don’t get back to normal for a whole variety of reasons.

For one, Bonham cited an increased cost associated with social distancing and said that many local businesses also reap some rewards from the tourism industry, which will not reopen for months.

More than 221,000 people have filed for unemployment since the COVID-19 shutdown in March and that will remain high even if a significant portion — an estimated 80,000 — are able to go back to work later this month.

UHERO says the most optimistic models show tourists being welcomed back at the end of July. But Bonham cautions that is the best-case scenario and depends heavily on screening, testing and tracing abilities of the state.

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