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As restrictions drop away, experts are optimistic about a tourism rebound

Tourism officials say the end of COVID restrictions in Hawaii will have a big impact on the visitor industry — one they say is very much needed.
Published: Mar. 24, 2022 at 8:27 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 25, 2022 at 12:50 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tourism officials say the end of COVID restrictions in Hawaii will have a big impact on the visitor industry — one they say is very much needed.

“I think there’s a great sense of optimism that we’re starting to remove barriers that often served as an obstacle for people to want to come here,” said Mufi Hannemann, Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association President and CEO.

Travel experts said the end of Safe Travels requirements and the indoor mask mandate at 11:59 p.m. Friday send a positive message to visitors, one that will encourage them to come to Hawaii.

Hannemann and University of Hawaii travel professor Jerry Agrusa said they are both optimistic about the state’s visitor industry.

“Right now you can see the fun,” said Agrusa. “Just look on Kalakaua, it’s full. You look at the restaurants, everything is just full, full, full. So we’re back. One of the biggest challenges that are facing the hospitality industry is labor.”

But that’s not the only setback.

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According to HLTA, hotels are at about 80% occupancy. They’re still not at pre-pandemic levels because of the absence of Japanese tourists.

But the main strip in Waikiki is busy partly due to spring break, partly due to where we are in the pandemic.

Many visitors said they didn’t mind the Safe Travels process.

“It didn’t really bother me,” said Connie, a Phoenix visitor. “Either way, if that’s what needed to be done it’s fine.”

“I totally agree with it going away,” said Tom Paulus, a visitor from Colorado.

Experts hope the end of the Safe Travels program sends a positive message to visitors.

“I think it’s been long enough time that they’ve put in enough safety factors that it’s a choice now. So I agree with it going away.”

And there’s a similar feeling about the end of the indoor mask mandate.

“It’s not been a big hassle, but I am looking forward to showing a smile here in there as opposed to hiding behind a mask,” said Jim Spivey, a Kentucky visitor.

But there’s the lingering feeling of how long the good times might last if a new variant creates a bad impact, one that health experts say they’re not anticipating.

“Hopefully, that won’t suppress what’s happening,” said Agrusa. “And hopefully, we’ll be able to go through it. "

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