Hawaii reopens to tourism using new pre-travel testing protocols

Tourism dependent Hawaii reopened to trans-pacific visitors on October 15, allowing travelers who pre-test for COVID-19 to bypass the mandatory 14-day quarantine that has been in effect since March 26.

The pre-travel testing for trans-pacific travel program states that those who do not want to be subject to the state’s 14-day mandatory travelers quarantine must take an approved COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to departure from the final leg of travel. (Children under the age of five are exempt from the test.)

The test must be done through one of the 17 trusted testing partners (listed here).

Negative test results may be uploaded on the Safe Travels Digital Platform, and all travelers must also complete the state’s mandatory travel and health form on this digital platform. Travelers are encouraged to do this step 24 hours prior to arrival in Hawaii. Airport screeners will review information upon arrival and conduct temperature screenings.

Some islands will require a second test upon arrival. The big island of Hawaii, for example, is requiring an antigen test for all arriving trans-pacific travelers who are participating in the pre-travel testing program.

If a traveler’s COVID-19 test comes back negative, they will be exempt from quarantine. If the results haven’t come in yet, the traveler will be required to quarantine at their place of lodging until the results come back. If the result comes back positive for COVID-19, the traveler and close contacts will be mandated to isolation for 14 days.

The start of the pre-test program, which had initially been scheduled for August 1, had been delayed several times prior to the Oct. 15 launch. The Hawaii Department of Health is in charge of the pre-travel testing program.

In one worrisome note, the start of the program coincides with a record rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in Hawaii, although the new cases have been tracked to specific events on the islands.


Drastic fall in travel

The COVID-19 pandemic considerably impacted visitor arrivals to the Hawaiian Islands. In the first eight months of 2020, total visitor arrivals decreased 69.0% to 2,201,141 visitors, with significantly fewer arrivals by air service (-69.1% to 2,171,349) and by cruise ships (-61.3% to 29,792) compared to the same period a year ago.

In August 2020 alone, visitor arrivals dropped 97.6% compared to a year ago, according to preliminary statistics released by the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s (HTA) Tourism Research Division. All passengers arriving from out-of-state during August were required to abide by a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine, a measure that has been in effect since the end of March. Exemptions included travel for essential reasons like work or healthcare. On August 11, a partial inter-island quarantine was reinstated. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continued to impose the “No Sail Order” on all cruise ships. In August 2020, a total of 22,344 visitors traveled to Hawaii by air service compared to 926,417 visitors during the same month a year ago. September figures have not yet been released.

Despite the strict and expensive testing procedure (which could cost upwards of $250 a test), travelers are coming back. From Oct. 15 – Oct. 20, more than 31,000 people arrived in Hawaii, nearly 50% more than in all of August, according to Hawaii News Now.


Improved airlift

Optimistic about returning demand, Hawaiian Airlines announced that it will reinstate its East Coast flying in December with twice-weekly nonstop service between Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) and Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) and thrice-weekly service between HNL and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). It will also resume daily nonstop service between HNL and Long Beach Airport (LGB), offering access to its U.S. mainland network.


Education Campaign

A partnership between the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) and the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) has launched an educational video Kuleana campaign that stresses personal and collective responsibility “to the people of Hawaii and the place we call home.”

The new video encourages travelers to wear a mask, wash their hands, keep six feet apart, and share aloha with fellow travelers and residents. It has been sent to airline, hotel and activity partners to share with their customers within email confirmations, inflight, in-room and on property as available. Building on the health and safety messaging of the Kuleana video, in a few weeks, HTA and HVCB will also launch the Malama Hawaii Campaign in key West Coast source markets.


Kuleana – Hawaii Travel Tips: Health & Safety: YouTube