HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Japanese visitors will be able to take advantage of Hawaii’s pre-travel testing program starting next month, the governor announced Tuesday.
Officials said they’re not expecting an “avalanche” of Japanese tourists, but said Hawaii’s agreement with the Japanese government is a big step toward repairing Hawaii’s tourism-driven economy.
“Back in March when the 14-day mandatory quarantine was put in effect, I sent an apology to many Japanese travelers who were forced to cancel their trips to Hawaii due to our safety measures,” Gov. David Ige said, in a news conference at Honolulu’s airport.
“Today, I am sending a new message: Please feel free to safely visit our islands. We are ready and delighted to welcome you back.”
The pre-travel testing programs allows incoming trans-Pacific passengers to forgo quarantine if they provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken with a trusted testing provider no more than 72 hours before departure. So far, the program has only been available to travelers from the mainland.
But the governor has expressed interest in broadening it to international travelers, including those from Japan, South Korea, Canada, Taiwan and New Zealand ― where COVID-19 infections are low.
Japan is the largest international market for Hawaii’s tourism industry. The second largest is Canada.
The first Japanese visitors could arrive through the pre-travel testing program as early as Nov. 6.
They will have to get their COVID-19 test from one of 21 trusted testing partners.
Ige said Hawaii will get at least 10 flights to Hawaii from Japan in November. That’s much smaller than what the islands would have seen before the pandemic. But, he said, it’s a start.
Hiroshi Kuroda, Japan Airlines regional manager, said tourism from Japan to Hawaii is expected to return slowly because Japanese nationals will still need to quarantine when they return to Japan.
He also noted that US passport holders are still restricted from entering Japan. In other words, there’s no reciprocal pre-travel testing program in place for Hawaii residents seeking to visit Japan.
Pre-travel testing to Hawaii was launched Oct. 15, and so far more than 94,000 incoming trans-Pacific passengers have been screened upon arrival, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said.
Of those, about 10,000 had to go into quarantine.
Green said about one-third of incoming travelers are returning residents.
This story will be updated.