Even as Hawaii prepares a marketing campaign to bring back tourism calling the state ‘the safest place in the world’ for how well it has managed to contain COVID-19, it’s also ramping up restrictions on visitors – some designed to protect the state from coronavirus, others clearly motivated by an antipathy towards outsiders coming from the mainland.
In mid-March, when Hawaii had just 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19, they asked tourists not to visit. That’s remarkable for a state whose largest industry is tourism. Then they began mandatory quarantines for visitors, and paying for plane tickets so tourists would leave.
People whose cell phone batteries die, because their planes didn’t have seat back video or power ports and they used them for entertainment on the flight over, risk arrest because arriving passengers have to provide a phone number on their quarantine form when they land and show that the number works.
This is why airlines ‘double crew’ flights to Hawaii – one crew rests on the way over, the other crew rests on the way back – so they don’t have to get off the plane and don’t have to quarantine for two weeks before returning home.
With the virus largely under control, the state looks to the future. They need tourism but there’s long been an undercurrent of hostility towards outsiders. Coronavirus gives that hostility a name, and a justification. And there are several concrete proposals that the state is considering to put it into practice.
- Every non-resident arriving must have a reservation to leave. This is already required, but now details are demanded on arrival forms as passengers get off of planes. If someone has quarantined for two weeks, and is healthy, a requirement to leave does nothing to protect the community from coronavirus.
- Airport redesigns are under consideration to funnel passengers through arrival checkpoints. Having passengers funnel to one of three checkpoints is being considered for Honolulu.
- Mandatory state transportation to quarantine location effectively putting passengers into government custody until they arrive at their quarantine-on-arrival location. This is merely under discussion, rather than being implemented currently, and may be open to legal challenge.
- Detaining people in their quarantine location “Another idea that has been discussed is giving visitors a one-time use room key so if they leave, they can’t get back in without alerting hotel staff.” This is not obviously legal.
There’s clearly an underlying xenophobia that’s been brought to the forefront by the novel coronavirus, and it makes the state far less welcoming of tourists even as they rely on tourism.