Visitor Industry Must Step Up If They Want More Visitors - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Dave Young

Dave Young is a local retiree with no special credentials.

There’s so much happening in the “COVID Crush” right now. Rising levels of infection, reduced testing capacity, new restrictions, new layoffs, government staff shortages and plenty of posturing are all part of the daily news cycle.

Through it all, one message I keep hearing is that the state must reopen to tourists — we need the revenue and we need the jobs.

Sooner or later, economic reality will force open the jetways at the airport.

What’s equally inevitable is new waves of infections that will dwarf any of our current records. If Hawaii reopens while our primary visitor markets are seeing record infections, a powerful “second wave” will wash over us as surely as the sun rises over Leahi.

People start returning to Ala Moana Beach Park,,in Honolulu, HI, Wednesday, May 27, 2020 as the island slowly starts opening up after weeks of COVID-19 restrictions that limited people from sitting or gathering on the beaches island wide. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)
Ala Moana Beach Park in May as beach-goers gradually begin to venture out. Since the tourism industry desperately wants more visitors, they should take the lead in making sure it is safe. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2020

Just look around at other states that have reopened and are now fighting record COVID-19 cases. California is one of Hawaii’s key tourism markets — and they are shutting that state down again amid record breaking surges in COVID transmission.

Oh, wait now, you say. No need worry. We want the visitor to produce a certificate that he/she was tested negative three days prior to arrival.
 Yeah, if my daughter can get a fake ID on the internet, there should be no shortage of sites willing to sell a fake certificate of testing.

And who’s going to take the time to really look and check if it’s legitimate or not?

The Great Loophole

And then there’s the great loophole: If the visitor does not take a pre-visit test, they will be told to quarantine for 14 days. But when the arrivals rise into the thousands, there is absolutely no way that the government can track them (or enforce the quarantine).

The government can’t even track the several hundred a day that are coming in now.

Will the hotels turn them in? Will the tour companies?

If it’s a choice between making a buck or enforcing the guidelines, I’m betting that greed will be more powerful than altruism. It’s just human nature.

And then there’s the visitors who won’t wear a mask or keep their distance. Will we still serve them?

(Of course we will. Their credit card is just as good as the next guy’s.)

Did anyone take note of the state’s “reduced capacity” to test for the virus?

We can’t even keep up with what we need right now. How are we going to test delinquent visitors? And where will we find professional level contact tracers to track the inevitable case load?

Even if we could, there’s the issue of who’s going to pay to test these visitors and quarantine them if necessary. Oh well, you say, that’s the state’s job under the mandate to protect public health and safety.
 No, it shouldn’t be.

It should be the responsibility of the industry that benefits from these visitors. Let the hotels, restaurants, tour operators, vacation rental operators, the bus companies, car rental firms and the airlines make sure the visitors they are so anxious to serve are clean.

Right now, they are whining and moaning about the industry’s economic morass and the need to generate revenue. They sit back and denigrate anyone who is not “vested” in the industry.

So let me clap back and ask, what are you willing to do to make sure this industry of yours is safe and clean?

Let everyone who currently claims they are not going to survive without tourists get together and develop a fully funded and fully staffed program to make sure those tourists are free of disease. You like bring them into our home? You make sure they no stink.

It’s really simpler than our leaders make it sound: Turn the tables. Tell the visitor industry that when they can effectively screen, track and host thousands of arrivals, then we’ll let the visitors back in.

Truly, I am tired of seeing spokesmen on the evening news saying they are “confident” the industry will open safely.

It’s simple: if they don’t do a good job and the virus count spikes again, shut them down again. Shut them totally down. With a strong negative incentive to do it right, they just may be motivated to develop an interest in safe operations.

Why appropriate millions of dollars for the state to procure high tech and sometimes untested technology? If you think an app or a tracking database is the answer, just consider how well the government handled unemployment insurance claims.

If they can’t even administer a decades-old insurance system, do you want to trust them to develop new technology in just a few weeks?

I’m resigned to the economic reality that we will open the doors to tourists again.

I would much rather give the private sector a strong incentive to do it right and trust that they will do the job when their self-interest is at stake.

If we’re not going to take this opportunity to reimagine and restructure the visitor industry, maybe it’s simply time to make the visitor pay more for the privilege of visiting this place.

Maybe instead of begging folks to come share our “aloha,” we stand tall and say, “You like come, come. But be ready to pay for it.”

So, I’m resigned to the economic reality that we will open the doors to tourists again. I am not convinced the state government can do it safely or economically.

But I do believe that given the choice of prosperity or bankruptcy, the visitor industry itself can be motivated to do the job.

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About the Author

Dave Young

Dave Young is a local retiree with no special credentials.

Latest Comments (0)

Yup, the tourist industry refuses to act responsibly.  They just want to make money, not matter what the public health consequences will be.  The tourist industry wants residents to show aloha to tourists, but the tourist industry refuses to show aloha to residents.

sleepingdog · 2 years ago

Great ideas Dave!  It seems that Hawaiian Airlines can rush to support TMT with airfare and reap worldwide free advertising,  but are strangely silent when it comes to proposing to participate in any plans to save thier own company for the future. Let's not forget the times when Aloha Airlines went out of business and they were charging local residents over $300 to go to Kona. Why should the State of Hawaii assume all the burden to get them back up and running again? This crisis will pass, eventually, and there they will be ready to reap all the benefits. Let's make them work for it....instead of whining about getting a bailout from the Federal government.  This goes for all of the major players in the tourism industry.Keep flossing Dave. 

princess45 · 2 years ago

I agree that there needs to be some type of system in place to avoid tourists coming over and spreading the virus. But, I also don't see shutting everything down as a viable option. Also, the islands have to get their act together. The bulk of the spike we are seeing is community spread in the local communities, not by tourists. Also, if a safe, equitable system cannot be set up soon to allow the tourist income to come back to the islands in a timely manner, the economic impact will cripple the islands for years to come. I've heard all kinds of estimates on how many businesses will close, or never open again as a result of this virus. Those all related directly to jobs lost. While talk of expanding the economic base with more diverse businesses, farming, green jobs, those changes will take years to get established. I am not suggesting we just throw the doors open to anyone and everyone. But, currently it doesn't seem like there is any legitimate plan in the works.

Bleu1956 · 2 years ago

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