Hawaii Considers New, Possibly Illegal, Restrictions on Tourists

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The amount of constitutional breaches by the Hawaiian government are astounding. Furthermore, the incredible ignorance displayed not only by their officials but by the blindly supportive population of Hawaii is destroying their economy. Not Wall Street, the Hawaiian economy. The Hilton, will be fine. Waikoloa, will be fine. Turtle Bay, will be fine. What will not be fine, are the countless fruit stands, shave ice vendors, drive-ins, and other kama’aina who rely on passers by to feed their families and pay their rent. And then, when that goes by the wayside, the same residents who support this xenophobic and overtly prejudiced behavior on behalf of Hawai’i expect in the same breath that their population be supported financially by Federal programs. I GUARANTEE you that no Hawaiian sent back a stimulus check. Hawai’i has been too ignorant to realize that only months ago its population was decrying the behavior of Governor Ige over his approach to the TMT on Mauna Kea, only to laud him for his draconian response to COVID-19 which has put more Hawai’ians at risk than the virus itself. It is my sincere belief, that CEOs should seek to abandon the state once the Pandemic has subsided. Cut flights. Close hotels. Close restaurants. Close resorts. But they won’t. Because at the end of the day, money talks. And Hawai’i will seek to return to tourism. In the same way that an abusive spouse seeks to console their victim by touting their actions as protective. I am deeply ashamed of Hawai’i and it’s Government and pray that it’s population seeks to understand the accurate data behind this pandemic and recognizes not only the overreach but illegalities committed on their behalf before our children are reading about what happened this year in school, from the passages of a diary written in hiding.

  2. So far 17 deaths on the Islands with about 1.4M people.

    That is approx. 1.2 deaths per 100k.

    Anyone who is interested should look up the numbers of deaths per 100k for other causes. You can find them at the CDC website. If you’ve never done so, I’ll bet you’ll find it quite enlightening. It’s possible that more people die each year from hangnails than from Covid in Hawaii.

  3. Not sure what Jeffs point is but I’m reading it as a compliment to Hawaii for doing
    such a good job at being proactive and obviously whatever they did Hawaii has been a success
    story at keeping the virus at bay.
    As far as how they open open up I hope they do it carefully and correctly. Perhaps a clue will come from Alaska who is requiring testing to protect themselves. Certainly systematic opening (inter island will be first on June 16th) is a good idea. Opening to less infected areas (Alaska, Japan Australia, NZ Samoa) is a great start. Eventually all travel will be open and Hawaii will be a bit of a paradise with substantially fewer crowds….for awhile.

  4. The major underlying problem/mistake that faces Hawaii is one that countless failed businesses have fallen prey to. When any business relies primarily on one huge contract or account for success they fail to consider what would happen to their organization if that account/customer base walks. Not only did Hawaii allow this to happen but they invited more and more of this same segment to support their business model, i.e. tourism to dominate the state coffers. State government feeds on this pot of gold mentality to grow bigger and bigger – now they are stuck with feeding this beast that will never be satisfied. Services to the public and state and local pensions must be honored. This is why Hawaiian natives seem so schizophrenic – it’s not easy to reconcile the love/ hate relationship with the source of your financial survival, i.e. mainland tourism. Covid will never be eliminated with so much worldwide traffic drawn to the islands. I foresee that many of the hotels will forever be shuttered – particularly the ones that are not a part of a global chain. The covid virus has brought all of this to the surface for all to see. Hawaii will never fully return to pre-covid status. Damn shame……

  5. Their is one lingering/growing effect of the nation’s reaction and media approach to the covid challenge. The public is now hyper aware of person to person transmission of infectious disease. As time passes the public will gradually return to visit the islands. But, and this is the new unknown, these future visitors/tourists will take into account an outbreak of any new seasonal strain of the flu or any other transmissible disease when planning trips to the islands. Why would that be of any future concern? Typically visitors to Hawaii plan their visit well in advance of their arrival – myself included. Folks have seen how quickly their vacation plans can be dashed and how precarious getting any kind of refund from the hotels and airlines can be. One declaration from the Hawaiian governor and/or his team can set this reaction in motion at a moment’s notice. It’s one thing to be cautious and quite another to expect the tourism base not to recognize this “new” reality. Again, what a damn shame.

  6. As a part time resident, I agree that things won’t be same when Covid is over, due to all the closed businesses. I can only hope the negativity toward non-locals will subside eventually, but this was growing even before Covid.

    “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.” This one I don’t understand; what is the purpose and how does this related to Covid?

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