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. There has always been hostility towards tourists on Hawaii, but it had been mostly hidden. Now it’s open and obvious. We arrived in Kauai in March a few days before the quarantine, so we were lucky not to be subject to it. But everywhere on the island we saw TOURISTS GO HOME signs, locals protesting against tourists, and just open hostility everywhere. It looks like the famous Aloha spirit was fake, to make money. And now the true face of Hawaiians is revealed.

  2. Well unless you just want to spend 2 weeks in a hotel room then what? You may or may not be allowed to see/do what you want? So a 3 week hotel stay for a 1 week vacation? ummm…no.

  3. I’ve never understood its attraction especially for people on the east coast. Its a horribly long trip from the east coast and there are tons of places much closer to visit, include a number of beach/island type places.

    If you don’t like their rules, don’t go. Pretty simple. Not like you have to go through there to get to some other place.

  4. I live in Hawaii and have for 33 years.
    Hawaii has in fact fared very well through this pandemic…keeping us safe that is, not economically!…..
    I guess the choice was not to lockdown and the resulting spread would have killed tourism or lockdown and kill tourism too, but hopefully not for long and of course a lot of lives where saved. Hawaii has only had 17 deaths.
    So good on the government response to this, it didn’t hurt that the Lieutenant Governor is an ER Doctor. Difficult live saving decisions where made. Now they have to figure out how to ramp up tourism when the entire country has had varied responses, protocols and case numbers. Once tourism returns it will be people from all over the country mixing over here. I don’t envy trying to figure that one out. We don’t hate tourists at all, any bias perceived may be that we don’t appreciate tourists who are disrespectful. As the state had boomed it was pushed to the limit of it’s resources. That’s what the residents are upset about. Not xenophobia.
    There is an ongoing debate here how we should open the floodgates, quality tourism vs growth at any cost (Greed). More immediately though is how can we open the state up safely. The Aloha spirit is all about respect, right now that means respecting what the state is doing to protect itself and not claiming it’s your right to ignore any safety protocols (Masks, screening, etc.) put in place. We are trying and we all live in a country that has never been so divided in a time of crisis. Hawaii will figure it out but it isn’t easy for anyone.

  5. Since Hawaii depends on tourism, any crazy ideas will fade away with time. Keep in mind that tourist from Japan alone can make or break the islands. The concept that tourist are not liked depends really on the attitude of the tourists themselves. Are they respectful and act like normal people or wild ass party people?

  6. Sorry. Capt. Vasili Borodin Now in USA you need papers to travel state to state

  7. After reading the above, not planning to go to Hawaii any time soon. There, that fixes it.

  8. As a resident of Hawaii (Maui) I can NOT stand these thoughts of restrictions. So many of us are out of work because the stupid restrictions have removed our “right to work” by removing all tourism. I even think the current quarantine is ridiculous. My parents live in KY and with over 4X as many cases they have more freedom now that they’re opening up than even us who live here. We are told to not even “go for a joyride” to get out of the house. We had 0 new cases yesterday, and only 1-3 cases every day this past week, yet they also won’t let us go to the beaches unless we’re constantly moving. It feels like living in a police state without adequate cause for it. Every day the governor, and then county mayors get on TV and try to keep us scared. In reality, our hospitals were never close to being full and we’re prepared. Really hope someone with the know-how gets this info in front of a court.

  9. Several other states have new COVID-19 regulations or laws that have questionable legal merit. Mostly, society has complied for the greater good. Although Hawaii’s new proposed rules are relatively draconian compared to those of other states, I respect their position, even if it kills my recent dreams to visit there.

  10. LOL. Apparently, these geniuses really do believe that there is no other place in the world to go for a warm weather vacation.

  11. Agree with above, it’s your attitude and respect for your surroundings. As a timeshare owner in Kauai, I am curious what restrictions will be like near term (6-12 months out). I believe at some point, sad to say, tourism money will trump all concerns.

  12. If people traveled with respect for the values of the places they visit then maybe there wouldn’t be an undercurrent of anger against them. Hawaii is not perfect but the sense of community and importance of caring for not just yourself but others around you is significant. I work in the hospitality industry and it hurts to not have visitors but I support measures to ensure the health of the local community. If you don’t want to visit, nobody is asking you to choose us over another warm weather destination. There are tons of places that offer you what you want, Hawaii is so much more than that to those who live here.

  13. This is illegal. Any American can take up residency in any state at anytime. Hawaii has no right to enforce borders (require a return reservation.) That’s what nations do: not states.

  14. This is all preposterous. They should just ask PCR genetic test 72 hours old prior to landing or provide one on arrival for nominal fee
    That is the only solution

  15. @ Gary — Let’s see, Hawaii has the highest unemployment rate in the US right now. Their response is to ban all of their customers and ask mainland taxpayers to bail them out. Good plan. Maybe they can use this down time to update their outdated airports.

  16. Brave post Gary, respect to you. Wife wanted to go there last year and we did, to the Andaz. Went driving around and all we saw were the xenophobic Hawaiian separatist flags flying out of half the vehicles. Flags flying, drunk, stoned and looking like idiotic hicks. The hatred of visitors was obvious. The road system, if you get off the beaten path at all is atrocious and some of the most dangerous I have ever experienced. I have zero desire to ever go back and you Hawaiians can keep your crappy backward rocks in the middle of the Pacific. As an American who loves America I’d be fine to cut these parasites loose. Good riddance. BTW- I lived many years in the deep south in the USA and the Hawaiian separatists are far worse than “southern rednecks”!

    So, SO many far better choices than Hawaii.

  17. I’ve always wondered why people like Hawaii… but, I think it’s just ‘easy’

    The same reason people on the West Coast go to Cabo or PV. They are all very mediocre… but they are warn, there is booze, and they are easy. Non-stop cheap flights, all inclusive resorts. Stuff blue collar Americans love.

    I was thinking about doing a 5-6 day trip in June, as I haven’t been in a while. See if anything has changed, but, uh, sounds like it’s getting worse.

    So, I think I’ll go to Alaska or somewhere that wants visitors.

  18. “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” Nice dig at an airline which has nothing to do with the topic of the post. haha.

    @Alex, wrong. Plenty of mainland states have restricted entry by out of state visitors.

  19. Not sure about the claim that Hawaii is ‘the safest place in the world’ but for sure their COVID19 related death rate is the lowest among all US states. Hawaii’s COVID19 death rate is 12 per million is not the lowest in the world, if we consider this as a measure for safety. It’s right along of that of Crete and Cyprus’, but higher than KSA, Argentina, Ukraine, Maldives, Morocco, Bahrain, China … etc.

  20. Sad .. so much fake news here.

    Shall we take them one at a time?

    1. Ramping up restrictions? Are you talking about restrictions in place now or merely the many silly ideas that will never come to light as politicians everywhere discuss things like this? There were a lot more draconian proposals on the table that also never saw the light of day.

    2. People risking arrest because their cell phones die? I’m sure they let them plug them in. the point of the cell phone check is to make sure the state has a way to get in touch with visitors to check on them during their quarantine. If they don’t have a cell phone, yes, they will be sent back to where they came from. Surely you know this, but it doesn’t stop you from saying this everytime you post about Hawaii restrictions.

    3. The implication that anybody like airline crew would have to remain in quarantine for the full 14 days even if their stay is less than 14 days is fake news. The mandatory quarantine for arriving pax is 14 days or the length of their stay if it’s less than 14 days. Another fabrication that Gary repeats in more than one post.

    4. Hawaii has a very limited number of ICU beds and ventilators. Any large outbreak requiring more than a couple of hundred ICU beds (with the vast majority of them being on Oahu) would be a major problem on Hawaii. But hatred of tourists is the reason you give for visitor restrictions.

    5. Please explain why a one-time use key would be illegal? They can get another one from the front desk, but this gives them an opportunity to alert the state that they have broken the quarantine if they didn’t have to leave the room for an emergency. What’s the basis for your claim that this is illegal?

    Hawaii will welcome visitors back to the islands soon when it’s safe to travel here. Meanwhile there’s not much of a reason to come here right now unless you want to be in a mandatory 14 day (or length of stay, if less than 14 days) mandatory quarantine. Meanwhile it’s hard to understand why we continue to have 100’s of visitor arrivals every day.

    Meanwhile, let us know how the infection rate is going in Texas over the next 3 – 4 weeks and when they will stop detaining people at the border.


  21. I’ve spent a lot of time in Hawaii and there definitely is xenophobia. But in most places it’s not the majority view. The history of Hawaii is, um, “complicated,” so I think mainlanders need to be a bit forgiving of this behavior. That said, it always bothers me that this “native Hawaiian” thing is mostly bunk. The vast majority of “real” Hawaiians were wiped out by disease in the 1800s. Most “native Hawaiians” today are far more Japanese (and other Asian) than they are “Hawaiian.” But maybe you’re not supposed to say this?
    In any event, the powers that be will ultimately chase the tourist money, so the xenophobia will crawl back into its hole. It will be there, but not very visible.

  22. @echino, yep our Aloha spirit is fake so please don’t come (ever, mahalo)
    @rich, yep, definitely not attractive. please go to Bahamas, Jamaica, (anywhere but here, Mahalo)
    @other justsaying, have some Leff Kool Aid while you stay away (please don’t reconsider either)
    @Gene, HNL is HORRIBLE, please don’t bring YOUR mainland taxpayer money here (not needed)
    @Globaltraveler, wish MUCH more Global travelers have “ZERO desire to go ever go back” (x1mill)
    @Doug, you’re wondering, yet still thinking of coming back?? Trust me, its worse so need to think.

  23. The tone of many of the posts here actually gives me hope. Hawaii is grappling with explosive growth in tourism and our resources being depleted. Obviously you can’t pick and choose who can come here and who cannot. If restrictions in place to keep Hawaii safe offend some, so be it.
    The “you can’t tell me what to do, it’s my right to decide if I want to place others in danger” crowd really aren’t the kind of tourists we need. There are plenty of respectful caring people that will come and probably have a better time with fewer narcissistic angry folks that are going to complain about the experience anyway.

  24. Just saw in a fact based article that the single entry room key is voluntary on the part of the hotels.

    So more fake news from the self anointed “travel thought leader”.


  25. The one-time use room key is currently a voluntary thing by some participating hotels.

    More fake news. from the “travel thought leader”.

  26. [quote]
    Per the committee’s request, hotels are voluntarily issuing room keys that work only on the first day of a stay. Any visitor who leave their room will need to go to the front desk to be let back into the room. The hotel will then report those who have violated the quarantine.


    If you’re interested in the actual facts vs fake news,, including some restrictions not published here (rental cars), read the article.


  27. The US State Department needs to issues travel warnings for the states. They could copy and paste the North Korea travel warning and substitute Hawaii for North Korea.

  28. Mahalo @Josh and @John W. I agree 110% on Aloha being about respect. Hawai’i is closed!

  29. to MO
    We do not need you. You need us to survive. Your economy is directly linked to tourism. There are plenty of places in the world that are more affordable and more welcoming. The 14 day quarantine is unsustainable . What are you going to do pass the 12 weeks of unemployment …. beg for more federal help. I really hope people come back to their senses there, and fix this for your own benefit.

  30. I think that fits exactly what Washington does, so it’s no surprise: blame the others, especially if foreign/mainlander. The seeds of the country’s destruction have unfortunately been planted at the Federal level.

  31. Easy fix, US Congress and Executive Branch in 1993 ADMITTED to the ILLEGAL overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom (US Public Law 103-150), so why not end the continued illegal occupation, and restore Hawaiian Sovereignty so the Hawaiians can fix all these problems. They were doing better before it was left in the United States’ hands anyways.

  32. @Rich it isn’t that simple. It is in the same country, subject to the same Constitution. Some of this stuff wouldn’t survive judicial review and everyone knows it.

  33. @David that’s false equivalence re: Texas and the border. Mexico is another country. Hawaii is part of our country.

  34. @Yep
    Texas did enact a 14-day self quarantine for people driving in from LA. It’s since been retracted.

    Try not to spread bad/incomplete info if you’re gonna attack someone else. Thx.

  35. @JohnW +1 .
    I just don’t understand disrespectful tourism. Visiting other lands is a gift and a privilege.

  36. There are really two thrusts here. One is a subset of Native Hawaiians who think Hawaii should secede. There are secessionist movements all over the US.

    The larger thrust is from NIMBY’s, many of whom were tourists at one point themselves, moved to Hawaii, and now resent tourists. It is a lot more potentially palatable to say “we need to become more sustainable and livable” than to say “I’m already rich, I live here now, and I don’t care about the tourism-based economy and would prefer not to have tourists causing traffic and crowds.” It’s a Hawaii version of the anti-housing NIMBYs in California cities, Seattle, and elsewhere.

    Both are using the coronavirus crisis to advance their arguments, but the second group has more votes, money and influence, and their “ask” is more reasonable on its face.

    Hawaiian tourism is already limited by cost and distance, compared to places like Florida or Cancun. As mainland tourists, we shouldn’t stop going, and we should be respectful, or the second group mentioned above will only gain in influence.

  37. Glad I stocked up on Tori Richard shirts at Macy’s when they were on sale a few months ago. Mahalo to the Ala Moana.. till we meet again, when your state becomes a little more sensible towards healthy visitors

  38. To qwerts point there is some nimbyism and there is some very angry secessionest thinking.
    They both make up a small faction. The sentiment that returning to the old tourism
    of quantity over quality would be a mistake is held by many prominent born and raised in Hawaii residents. It’s being hashed out pretty regularly in the local editorial pages. Highly respected long time Star Advertiser Columnist Lee Cataluna has had some excellent articles on the subject. Two Sundays ago it was the front page main article. We cannot sustain growth at any cost.
    It’s a very tough question with no easy answers, everyone knows the importance of tourism.
    What’s important is how it’s managed and right now that means how do we bring it back. We simply cannot open the doors without prioritizing safety first.
    The people that have a problem with that are not who we want coming over here.
    We can survive by slowly ramping up tourism, or we can destroy ourselves by letting in a floodgate of tourists without strong safety protocols.

  39. “What’s important is how it’s managed and right now that means how do we bring it back. We simply cannot open the doors without prioritizing safety first.”

    Completely agree. I think rapid testing before departure, i.e., at or before check in, or after arrival to include a short quarantine until the results come back (hours, not days), is where the state has to go ASAP. I don’t think that is going to be rolled out in time for our next planned trip there for 4th of July week.

  40. Sadly Hawaii and California are the most corrupt and mismanaged states that are being run down by leaders similar to North Korea and Venezuela dictators. Our families have been living in both states since early 1900 and we are still being called Hauli’s by some drugged up or drunk “beach bums” pretending to be native Hawaiians. Its a shame how disrespectful many “local” Hawaiians are to there Islands. Trash dumped everywhere including dismantled cars and boats despite having plenty and free state operated waste sites that are operating 6 days/week. No respect for their own how can you expect respect form others? This lock down is unconstitutional in every state that has it in place and is a violation of our rights and freedom as citizens of the USA . We are responsible for our own health, on what we eat, how we live and take care of ourselves and others. It should not be the government job unless they want to turn USA into a communist country.

  41. I actually booked a trip to Hawaii. I wanted to “keep my dollars in the US” this summer. After seeing the way they are behaving, I may never return. I enjoy the Caribbean more anyway. Good luck diversifying the economy like their political leaders are saying. With no raw materials and an incredible distance, they will be a third world country in no time. I sure hope federal tax dollars will not be used to underwrite losses from this ridiculous behaviour

  42. Huh… unfortunately, this is clearly written with a very surface level understanding of the state, it’s history and it’s people. The whole piece needs a massive fact check so I’m not going to even bother with individual corrections. I guess I’m confused as to why someone would write about something they no so little about and do so little research to make up for the lack knowledge? I would be embarrassed to put my name on such shoddy work But that’s just me. Yikes…

  43. I always knew that non-Hawaiians were resented for visiting the islands. I realized this when I first visited Oahu in 1990. Even though I am Mexican-American I am always asked if I am a local boy coming home. I have that look about me. I have been back to the islands 20 times, and yet I now see that what I suspected and felt about the phony aloha spirit was all about marketing. Not for all, of course, but for the majority. I now fear that Hawaii is going down the road of another tropical island resort escape where fully 45% of the population lives below the official poverty level – where the average annual income is $19000 – Puerto Rico. The state has been obviously overbuilt and overly dependent on tourism. The locals may get their wish of keeping tourists out and end up with a third world standard of living in the middle of the Pacific. Good luck…

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