Governor: Surge in COVID-19 cases on Oahu could delay state’s tourism reopening plan

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Updated: Aug. 14, 2020 at 10:35 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The governor acknowledged Thursday that a rapid spread of coronavirus on Oahu may trigger a delay to the state’s plan for rebooting tourism.

The state had hoped to launch a pre-testing traveler program on Sept. 1, after delaying it from Aug. 1.

“I know that going backwards will cause further harm to our economy but we have always said the health and safety of our community will be the highest priority,” Gov. David Ige said.

[Read more: Ige says state is moving in the ‘wrong direction,’ but opts not to institute new restrictions]

The plan calls for allowing visitors to avoid Hawaii’s mandatory, 14-day quarantine if they get tested for COVID-19 before they land in Hawaii.

The governor pushed the plan’s launch back to September because of a surge of COVID-19 cases on the mainland. Now, it appears the surge in new infections in Hawaii may delay it again.

Tourism executives said the reopening could be pushed as far back as November or even December.

“I don’t think our industry will be open until the end of this year,” said Keith Vieira, a longtime tourism industry executive who now heads KV & Associates.

A number of hotels have re-hired workers and taken other steps in preparation for the Sept. 1 date, which was essentially seen as a reopening of the tourism industry in the islands.

Economists said a further delay is going to further hit Hawaii’s ailing economy.

“Continued job losses, continued shutdown of business, some permanent business shutdowns — it just drives home the point that you can’t separate the virus from the economy,” said Carl Bonham, executive director and economics professor at the University of Hawaii Economics Research Organization.

Even after the state reopens for trans-Pacific tourism, it’s going to be a while before the visitor industry recovers — and a while more before tourism workers are called back in significant numbers.

“Even if the governor does reopen, we’re talking about 20% occupancy. That’s what everybody is saying, 20% occupancy,” said Rod Antone, executive director of the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association.

“Is that enough to bring back enough to bring back all your workers? Probably not.”

Added Vieira: “Can we open in January and February and do 20 to 25% and wrap up by the end of the year? I now believe it’s going to take three years” to recover, he said.

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