Tourists: We hate having too many of them. Until they stop coming.
Now we’re thinking of welcoming them back … but maybe with ankle monitors.
Hawaii is not there yet.
But with many folks anxious to somehow reopen the state’s top moneymaker to visitors, Attorney General Clare Connors says her department is vetting the idea of ankle monitors, GPS tracking or facial recognition technology to make sure visitors — and returning locals, too? — don’t stray under the state’s 14-day quarantine order.
Some folks argue that there should be a tradeoff for daring to come to the islands during a pandemic. The debate comes down to the matter of public heath and safety versus individual freedom and economic survival.
What the ankle monitor proposition primarily does is illustrate what Hawaii has known for decades but done little about: We are way too dependent on the visitor industry — airlines, cruises, hotels, shops, restaurants, bars, cars, attractions and tours — and we need to diversify the economy.
Tough times come around and Hawaii suffers for a spell: the Japanese bubble burst in the early 1990s, the 9/11 attacks of 2001, the 2007-2008 Great Recession. But we never really find a way to wean ourselves off the tourism teat.
Mufi Hannemann, the former politician turned lodging executive, has it right when he said this week “at the end of the day, tourism will remain our core competence. I mean, how do you replace 250,000 jobs, $2 billion in taxes and $17 billion in revenues that this industry does? That’s going to be the challenge.”
The good news — if we can call it that — is that Hawaii remains a desirable destination, quarantine and all. The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported Friday that 640 people flew into the state Thursday, 166 of them visitors. That’s infinitesimal compared to the almost 30,000 that arrived daily a year ago at this time, but still.
But look at the graphic below from the HTA: several hundred other people came in Thursday, too, including 196 residents and 134 crew. Would they be required to wear an ankle monitor?
This table does not include interisland travel. “Intended Resident,” the HTA explains, means people who are moving to Hawaii “such as military members and their families, and former residents who intend to live in Hawaii.”
And “Visitor” means people who do not have a Hawaii ID, which can include “essential health care workers, essential federal workers, former residents such as mainland college students coming to stay with family, military on temporary assignment, and leisure travelers.”
Breaking quarantine is not something we should take lightly. But we have to accept that there are many stupid people in this world — like the California honeymooners the state says “allegedly scoffed” at the travel quarantine and were promptly arrested Wednesday.
Reportedly, the lovebirds refused to sign a required quarantine acknowledgement when they checked in, bought a pizza and brought it back to the hotel, and said they planned to visit friends and go to the beaches.
Buh-bye, stupid people.
You can’t just stop the planes from flying. And there are some pretty good deals on the internet right now: roundtrip flights from Los Angeles this month for $376, Waikiki hotel chains like Aqua listing rooms as low as $75 a night, Chevrolet Aveos renting for $14 a day (excluding taxes and charges).
Travel temptations cut both ways, too.
Watching TV while picking my car up from Pacific Honda Friday I saw a trip to Las Vegas promoted by nonstophawaii.com and voiced by Michael W. Perry.
Recall that it was state Sen. Clarence Nishihara who shuttered the state Capitol in mid-March after returning from the Ninth Island carrying coronavirus.
It seems that the quarantine, the stay-at-home, the curfews, the 6-feet rule and the masks are working. On Friday the state Department of Health reported only one new COVID-19 case.
I think ankle monitors are going to be a big turnoff, even if you stencil a red hibiscus on them courtesy the HTA. (“Mahalo. And come back soon.”)
On a more serious note, I agree with Gov. David Ige that we are not “out of the woods” yet. On average some 2,000 Americans are dying from COVID-19 every day.
I can’t help fear for the worst (but hope for the best) when I read that 30 states have partially reopened for business (including Hawaii).
On Friday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that an elderly woman who became infected with the virus while hospitalized at Maui Memorial Medical Center survived … only to test positive again.