Lt. Gov. Josh Green hopes to reopen Hawaii’s tourism industry by July

Updated: May. 25, 2020 at 11:02 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - After two days with no new coronavirus cases statewide, some people are anxious to restart Hawaii’s tourism industry.

"We should open everything back up because we're pretty much coronavirus free," said Waikiki resident Larry Henley.

However, hotel employees say they won’t go back until they know their workplaces are safe.

"I would feel more ready if the employers would communicate to us,” said Moana Surfrider front desk worker Ken Seekins.

The UNITE HERE Local 5 union is demanding personal protective equipment for workers, along with better training, and they want to ensure that everyone gets their jobs back.

"Nobody is guaranteed jobs back,” Seekins said. “And I'm kind of in the lower end of the seniority even though I've been working for seven years. So, I doubt that I will work full time for a long time.”

To make their voices heard, the union is staging a caravan on wheels through Waikiki on Wednesday.

"Somebody could get sick and it would blow our industry. So, everybody in the industry has to adopt high standards. Low standards for safety should not be acceptable in Hawaii. That will destroy our long-term viability of our industry," said Eric Gill, the union’s financial secretary treasurer.

While the hotel union pushes for new safeguards, the Lieutenant Governor thinks Hawaii could restart its visitor industry by July.

“By having people tested beforehand, it reduces the risk very greatly on all those good people that are going to be taking care of the tourists,” said Josh Green.

Green says the state will likely require a negative COVID-19 test from any passenger before arriving in Hawaii.

He says travelers from Japan, New Zealand and Australia should be allowed first.

"Where they have extremely low rates of COVID,” Green said. “It’s more possible for us to have comprehensive negotiated agreements with a country ironically than with the mainland … “Japan is 20-percent of all our travelers but 30-percent of all our economic activity from tourism. So, in some ways, it’s the perfect place to start.”

This comes as state officials predict the economy could shrink more than 12-percent this year, with a 67-percent drop in tourism.

Most of Hawaii’s 242,000 unemployed workers are tied to the visitor industry.

The state labor director expects fewer than half will be able to return to work.

“My suspicion is that could be upwards as high as 190,000,” Murakami said. “I think by the end of this year, if we’re lucky, we’ll maybe bring back about 35-percent of the people that we lost at the peak.”

The state says it could be five years before visitor numbers get back to normal.

Some want to hurry, and some are in no rush.

“I understand that our economy depends heavily upon tourism, beyond heavily on tourism. But if it does reopen, we should be careful about what happens,” said Waikiki resident Randall Wat. “Be careful knowing that this thing is still around.”

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