HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the governor seeks to reboot Hawaii’s economy, the question of how to reopen tourism safely remains unanswered.
The state is ramping up efforts to screen incoming arrivals and brainstorming other possible ways to keep coronavirus out as tourism picks up, including requiring that visitors be tested to avoid quarantine.
But when Hawaii once again opens to tourism, how many will actually come?
New state projections indicate the answer to that question is: At first, not many.
The state Department of Businesses and Economic Development is projecting that the visitor industry in the islands won’t open in earnest until September, and that visitor arrivals for 2020 will top out at 3.4 million.
That’s a level of tourism not seen seen the late 1970s — Hawaii saw 3.9 million visitors in 1980 — and a decrease of 67.5% from 2019, when Hawaii saw more than 10 million visitors.
In a new economic outlook, the state is also projecting that tourism recovery will be painstakingly slow.
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In 2021, arrivals are expected to increase to 6.2 million visitors—or less than the total for 1990.
Visitor arrivals might not reach 2019 levels again until 2025, the state projects.
Hawaii saw about 2.1 million visitors from January to March, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority figures.
Since the state instituted a mandatory quarantine for all travelers, Hawaii has been getting roughly 250 to 300 visitors a day — the vast majority of whom say they’re in the islands to visit friends and family.
The state projects that Hawaii visitor arrivals in September will be about 30% of 2019 levels.
By December, the state says, they’ll be up to 45% of what the state saw last year.
Tourism is the state’s no. 1 economic driver, and its shutdown has triggered mass layoffs statewide. In April, the unemployment rate in Hawaii was 22.3% — the second-highest in the nation behind Nevada.
The state report said that about two-thirds of all jobs lost amid the pandmiec were in tourism-intensive industries. Gov. David Ige has expressed hope that the reopening of the kamaaina economy — with retailers, salons and gyms reopening or about to — will mean tens of thousands of people can get back to work.
State economists are projecting that Hawaii will end the year with an average unemployment rate at 8.6%.