By: Peter Van Buren
As a fairly, new resident of Hawaii, I bring an outsider’s perspective, and maybe a bit of uninvited advice. If Hawaii wants to regain its place as a popular tourist destination, it needs to think more like someone from Ohio than Oahu.
Asian travel is at a standstill and will be for some time. Should someone from Japan decide to visit our beautiful islands, in addition to our COVID requirements, upon returning home he would face a 14 day quarantine, a two-week ban on using public transportation, and location tracking via cell phone from his own government. If he breaks quarantine, among other penalties his name would be made public as someone “contributing to the spread of infection.” You would have to really, really love poi to build all that into a vacation.
That brings us back to our potential Ohio traveler as he weighs his vacation options. He did the right thing and got double-vaccinated right away and has been happily living and working without a mask for months. The pandemic as we still practice it here ended for most Americans months ago.
Florida looks good to our traveler. Florida dropped all its COVID restrictions about a year ago and appears to have survived two Spring Breaks and beyond. Visitors can enter the state without testing, vaccination checks, or threats of quarantine. Disney, et al, are welcoming guests. Cruises look like they are about to restart. Instead of fretting, the governor is hosting a conference in September to bring together tourism professionals, advertising agencies, and state leaders to build on opportunities. They are looking at $95 billion in revenues from tourism, the good stuff: people drive or fly in, use few governmental resources, and leave behind money. It is a sweet investment, as every $1 put into their tourism promotion agency, Visit Florida, yields a $3.27 return to taxpayers. Visitors save every Florida household more than $1,500 a year on state and local taxes. Florida gets it.
New York City was ground zero once again, the hardest hit COVID site. The city faced some of the nation’s worst COVID management, slamming the door shut on what was a tourism industry that created 400,000 jobs and $70 billion in economic activity pre-pandemic. But slowly the place awoke to discover it was not Judgment Day 2020, but summer 2021. Visitors can enter without testing, vaccination checks, or threats of quarantine. As of mid-June, almost all COVID restrictions were dropped, and the Governor announced the state of emergency was over. Broadway is reopening with Bruce Springsteen, the Garden with the Foo Fighters, and the city is running a $30 million “NYC Reawakens” tourism campaign funded by stimulus money. After a year of some unbelievably bad decision making, the pols seem now to get it. Even the neo-socialist mayor says, “building a recovery for all of us means welcoming tourists back.”
Hawaii stands alone among the 50 states simply refusing to admit the pandemic is over. Hawaii alone requires not only COVID testing for unvaccinated visitors, but a complex regime of “trusted partners” who in the end administer the same tests through the same national labs as the untrusted partners. Let us hope some of them are within a day’s drive of would-be tourists. Until a snap decision changed the rules as of July 8, Hawaii stood alone in treating those vaccinated in Hawaii differently from those vaccinated outside of Hawaii. It was always easier for dogs as of today you can import a dog into Hawaii with an out-of-state rabies vaccine but not a tourist with an out-of-state COVID vaccine.
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The funny things is the only thing Hawaii worries about in human travelers is COVID. It neither tests for nor asks for proof of vaccination for yellow fever, malaria, Ebola, AIDS, polio, Hepatitis A, B or C, leprosy, dengue fever, or hundreds of other diseases more problematic to the general population than COVID. And of course, there is no science saying something magical happens at 70% local vaccination levels that does not happen at 69% or 59%. They are just arbitrary numbers to create the illusion of control to provincial voters.
Hawaii also seems unaware tourists need to plan vacations well ahead of time. The ever-changing guidance out of the Governor’s office drove people away. Imagine our Ohio tourist approaching his boss a month ago for time off: “Hey boss, can I have my two weeks when Hawaii hits 70%? It might be August, might be December, or they may alter the rules again, so we can stay chill on the dates, right?” That is one traveler; if you are booking group tours, forget about it and go to Disney. The Governor’s waiting until late June to acknowledge vaccinated people do not get COVID just wrote off a second summer season.
If our Ohio visitor dips into the local news he sees the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor arguing publicly over what the new rules should be. He sees Hawaii is looking to defund its own tourism promotion authority and still cannot get its light rail running.
The Ohio visitor reads unwelcoming, almost contemptuous Op-Eds wondering if too many tourists are spoiling things for the locals. He is unlikely to feel welcome with the Third World-like two-tiered pricing regime at popular sites. The Ohio Visitor sees articles about people sent home from the airport over an innocent Safe Travels mistake, stories suggesting he will need to rent a U-Haul as no cars are available, $120 Uber rides in from the airport, taxes going up on accommodations alongside already usurious “resort fees,” and bars and restaurants capped at limited capacity so it could be Zippy’s again for dinner. Hope word reached Ohio reservations are required for Hanauma Bay, and good luck scoring them.
All this accompanied by the Jugend mask patrols, scolding anyone from ABC to CVS who is not wearing a mask, vaccinated or not. Sound like a vacation to you? The July 8 changes are welcome but are in the end too little too late.