Tourism’s slow recovery prompts call for ‘unified travel rules,’ but not everyone is on board

Travel executives and business leaders say Hawaii needs a more unified travel program.
Updated: Feb. 19, 2021 at 11:19 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Travel executives and business leaders say Hawaii needs a more unified travel program that streamlines the process for visitors.

“The inconsistent travel rules are really having a dramatic impact on our businesses across the islands,” said Rob Robinson, Springboard Hospitality vice president.

He and others say the current rules are confusing, which is slowing tourism and costing them money.

Mufi Hannemann, Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association president and CEO, said some 4 in 10 businesses in Hawaii aren’t able to reopen fully until tourism returns in a “meaningful way.”

Hannemann said another study revealed that about half of restaurants may be forced to close if there’s no tourism boost by April.

Lawmakers agree the situation is confusing. They’re pushing to unify the state’s travel rules.

House Bill 1286 would allow the governor to establish statewide travel mandates after initially putting it in the hands of county mayors.

Oregon visitor Angela Schultz flew into Hawaii on Wednesday only to fly right back out after taking the wrong COVID test.

“They need to make everything consistent,” said Schultz.

Kauai is the only island that has opted out of the Safe Travels program. There, every out-of-state traveler who stays at a “resort bubble” still needs to quarantine for at least three days and test negative for COVID. Kauai’s mayor says it will stay that way for at least three more months.

“We had a meeting with some of our hotel partners to give them the path forward,” said Mayor Derek Kawakami. “Right now, our goal is we’re looking at mid to late May.”

Sheraton Kauai Resort General Manager Chip Bahouth said the current travel mandates “are not consistent on all islands, which forces Kauai into a situation where we’re very uncompetitive.”

And while business owners and travel industry experts express the dire need to have a consistent program throughout the state, critics argue it’s not the safest solution.

“I understand the economic pressure,” said Gary Hooser, executive director for Pono Hawaii Initiative.

“But I also feel strongly that one size does not fit all. Each county is different. Each county has different demographics. Some counties have a higher percentage of older people, more vulnerable people. Some counties have less, some counties have more access to healthcare,”

HB1286 would also allow any visitors who have problems with their pre-travel test to get tested upon arrival. The latest hearing drew more than 500 pages of testimony.

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