Could Hawaii Push Back Tourism Reopening Again?

Will the state of Hawaii have to push back the reopening of tourism a third time beyond the current Oct. 1 date?

That’s the concern of many after the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that 25 hospitality companies filed legal notifications with the state in one day last week that they intend to have large layoffs or furloughs.

The issue all along for Hawaii Gov. David Ige has been a reluctance to allow the normal influx of tourists to the island in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Thus, Ige has instituted a mandatory 14-day quarantine on visitors the moment they arrive in the state.

Ige most recently extended the order in mid-August to an October 1 reopen.

But the fear now is, if the quarantine order is lifted, will tourists have anything to do and any places to go?

That became an important question when 25 businesses all filed a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) notice in one day on Thursday, Sept. 3. The legal requirement is for businesses that intend to have more than 2,500 layoffs or furloughs in the next 30 days. In total, 137 WARN letter notices from tourism-related businesses have been issued in Hawaii since March.

But at least one stakeholder says the state needs to “keep pushing forward.”

“The WARN notices today were depressing. Pages and pages,” Ben Rafter, CEO of OLS Hotels and Resorts, told the Star-Advertiser, Hawaii’s largest newspaper. “We’ve seen so many of these notices, but we can’t start becoming numb to them. In addition to the hundreds of millions that have been lost in the tourism industry, these are thousands of people’s lives. We need to keep pushing forward with reopening plans.”

Hawaii intends to implement a pre-travel testing program starting Oct. 1 to boost tourism and eliminate the 14-day quarantine. Travelers who take a certified laboratory coronavirus test 72 hours prior to boarding their flight to Hawaii and get it confirmed prior to arriving, will not be subject to the state’s mandatory quarantine. It also says travelers of all ages must take the test and must pay for the test themselves.

Anyone who doesn’t take the test or doesn’t get the results of the test back in time before arriving must quarantine.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said the pre-arrivals testing plan is ready to go once Ige approves it.

“We have an agreement with CVS and Kaiser,” Green said. “People also can go to a private doctor, and if it’s an approved test, we’ll accept it. As we approach the date, the state Department of Health will consider additional tests that might be easier and cheaper. We’ll have a whole list available.”

But will the program be implemented in time for tourism-related businesses from continuing to hemorrhage money? CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg said during a Facebook Live forum Thursday that Oct. 1 could be unrealistic. He’s not expecting the islands to open up until January.

Jack Richards, CEO and president of Pleasant Holidays, a large Hawaii wholesale travel seller, told the newspaper, “We’re still in the process of canceling reservations to Hawaii for September and October and we’re even starting to get into November reservations. The cancellations will keep coming until Hawaii gets a definite tourism reopening date. There’s no doubt in my mind that if the governor says Oct.1 is a go that we’ll see demand coming back to Hawaii. There’s still time to save the festive holiday travel season, but we’ve got to act now.”

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