Lee Cataluna: Finally, Hawaii Residents Can Travel, Too - Honolulu Civil Beat


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Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org


On Tuesday, Gov. David Ige laid out his plan that will allow Hawaii residents who are fully vaccinated to travel interisland without having to provide a negative COVID-19 test or submit to a 10-day quarantine.

Of all the recent steps to move the state out of the suspended animation of a pandemic year and back into a semblance of normalcy, this one in particular resonates in Hawaii.

When schools started cautiously bringing students back to campus again, that was big for kids, parents and educators.

When bars and restaurants could start to serve customers again, it was a celebratory milestone for those who missed eating out and having drinks with friends.

What a relief it was when hair salons welcomed back clients, when outdoor sports restarted for kids, when Kirk Caldwell let people sit on the beach again!

But residents being able to travel from one island to another within the same state without hassle is more than a logistical freedom. After a year of sacrifice and playing it safe, it is a triumph.

People on Oahu have seen the videos of tourists storming Maui beaches, and have had thoughts like, “Wow, I can’t even go visit Grandpa in Makawao without having to jump through a bunch of hoops, but there they are with a squadron of beach chairs in Kapalua and having a drum circle, mask-less and rule-less on the Makena sand. Why am I the only one having to fight COVID-19 by staying home and following rules?”

Ige’s new inter-county travel vaccination program will mean that fully vaccinated Hawaii residents 16 and over, who got their shots in Hawaii, can jump on a plane between islands like the old days. Trans-Pacific passengers and those who got their shots in other states will have to wait until the program is expanded.

In this one program, local residents came first. It is a big step, but it is small in terms of addressing the problem, the burden, the terrible imbalance of tourism versus the people who live here.
Scores of visitors along Waikiki Beach during COVID-19 pandemic and the return of tourism and visitors. April 11, 2021
Scores of visitors had returned to Waikiki Beach earlier this month. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In speaking of his inter-county travel vaccination program earlier this week, Ige told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight” program that the overall goal for tourism going forward is “not having to just go for 10 million and 12 million and 15 million … It’s really about getting the best 8 or so million visitors who are willing to listen to our mandates, to respect our culture and our environment in a way that allows (us) to get a win-win situation.” 

Um, nice idea, but will there be a screening process? Will potential tourists have to sit for interviews, pass a written exam, go through an audition? 

OK, everybody who is willing to stay in  resort-area hotels, eat at resort-area restaurants, tip well, wear fish-friendly sunscreen, and resist doing anything that will require a Fire Department air lift or lifeguard ocean rescue will advance to the next round, which will consist of a credit check and an analysis of spending habits to prove that you have the means and the behavioral history of dropping serious cash when you travel, and are not the type to just crash in some soggy $35 dollar a night spare futon and subsist on scrounged papayas and sandwiches from the food martYou will then undergo a psych evaluation that will assess your degree of rebellion versus your ability to follow the dang rules and vacation like a respectful, decent, law-abiding human being.

If you are not selected to be a tourist in Hawaii, we recommend you rebook your travel plans to Florida, where they have more acreage and can therefore handle more nonsense. If you are offered a vacation spot in Hawaii, know that locals will still resent you, lawmakers will overtax you, businesses will overcharge you, and everybody still has PTSD from the days of 10 million tourists a year, so if you get a funny look, don’t take it personally.

No. The chances of figuring out how to get the “right” kind of visitors are pretty slim. The visitor industry — from the big hotel chains to the lady down the street who rents out the spare bedroom in her house — will never actively work toward fewer visitors, fewer flights, shorter stays, curtailed activities. 

The pandemic represented a lost year for so many things. It caused a reset in people’s lives and in the way companies do business.

So many things will never be the same, and that’s good. But talking about changing tourism like it’s a matter of finding the “best” visitors is ridiculous. At the very least, now local residents who are fully vaccinated can fly between islands without having to go through requirements as though they’re coming from another state or another country.

And that is one step closer to the kind of consideration that is needed for residents to put up with all those millions of visitors.


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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org


Latest Comments (0)

Ultimately, Hawaii will have to raise its prices, or we will continue to be a bargain destination.  Someone mentioned Tahiti, in comparison, most decent hotels are priced above $300/night and if you have been, food is even more expensive than here.  Tahiti is thought of as an exotic, once in a lifetime destination that people are willing to save $5K to get there for a week.  In contrast between low airline fares here and hotels in the low hundred range, we are not thought of as a once in a lifetime vacation.  There has to be some serious thinking by the HTA and the visitor industry to re-brand Hawaii as a safe, exclusive destination worth it's cost.  Secondarily, our high spending Asian tourist are not even on the radar yet, but they will be the model and the segment of tourism that we should be striving for.  

wailani1961 · 3 weeks ago

Maui has been averaging 5,000-6,000 visitor arrivals per day since early March. I guess nobody here in local government got the memo about "regenerative tourism." Early April had more daily arrivals than same time of year in 2018 and 2019. The flood gates are already open and it's only gonna get worse this summer. Borders will still be closed to Americans for most international travel destinations. They're all coming here now, even with their endless complaints about covid testing, mask requirements, and capacity restrictions on bars/restaurants and activities. It's all lip service from these state/county officials. They have no intention of changing anything. It's already back to business as usual on Maui. On the positive side, as cost of living increases due to unchecked mass tourism, residents will need to work so much we won't have free time. Then it won't matter we can't access beach parking or enjoy eating at a restaurant without waiting 60-90 minutes for a table. Politicians keep telling us there's no way to make a living here other than serving the tourism industry. Don't we have a chronic shortage of teachers and health care workers? 

Lee1011 · 3 weeks ago

It would be interesting to see visitor spendings since the pandemic especially after the floodgate is open. If we can only be a tourist destination, what kind of destination we envision us to be, somewhere exclusive like tahiti, where most people have to save up to go to; or somewhere more accessible to everyone. Even most national parks now have a reservation system since it's over-crowded, why can't we have a limit on the amount of people we can accept? If people have to get on a waitlist to come here, maybe they will value it even more.

dinogirl · 3 weeks ago

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