HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii reopened to Japanese visitors Friday through the state’s pre-travel testing program.
Travelers from the country will now be able to forgo a two week 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.
State officials held a news conference Friday morning at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, shortly before the first flight from Japan was expected to arrive.
“We are committed to reviving our economy in a healthy and safe way and this is the next step in bringing additional travelers back to Hawaii,” Gov. David Ige said.
“Japan is the number one point of origin for international travelers to Hawaii,” he added. “We do appreciate the visitors from Japan. They are courteous. They understand our health protocols that we want, they typically do wear masks, normally.”
Friday’s ANA flight brought 64 passengers from Japan and visitors walked out of the international terminal with proof of their negative COVID-19 test results.
“It’s really good because I can meet my friends without quarantine and I have negative certification,” said Japanese visitor Mei Shibata.
Eric Takahata, managing director for Hawaii Tourism Japan, said a total of eight flights are scheduled for this month.
Hospitality experts do not expect a quick return to normal levels of tourism from Japan in part because the country has quarantine rules for its own residents if they travel to the U.S.
Yet, even a trickle of tourists will be welcome to Hawaii’s devastated visitor industry.
“One Airbus at 85% capacity means $105 million that comes to the state of Hawaii, $12 million in taxes and 1,100 jobs once it’s up at capacity,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who spearheaded the Safe Travels program.
“It’s not really about money, but it’s about giving people hope as the governor has done by setting this program up. Though we may start a little slow, we’re told it’s gonna ramp up quite a lot in the coming months.”
Green said in a previous interview on Hawaii News Now that even when more Japanese visitors arrive, he does not expect to see a surge in COVID-19 cases, especially since the country has a relatively low COVID-19 rate compared to places like California.
“And then on top of it, they’re all gonna get tests, and on top of that, their airlines are only gonna have people come onto the planes if they’re negative,” he said, adding that “Japan has travelers that are much more cooperative than some of our other destinations from the mainland, so they wear masks religiously.”
The pre-travel testing program was launched to travelers from the mainland Oct. 15. Since then, 174,515 screened individuals arrived in the state, 152,814 were exempted and 10,979 ended up in quarantine, Green said Friday.
Green said as cases surge on the mainland, he’s always concerned, but believes the program is working.
“We’re doing a very good job, it can’t be perfect. Much more important is mask wearing. We do better than on the mainland and other places with mask wearing, we’ll do better with COVID spread.”
Japanese speaking travelers are encouraged to visit allhawaii.jp for resources on travel to Hawaii.