Hawaii’s Governor To Tourists: Please Don’t Come

Throughout the pandemic Hawaii’s politicians, and some members of the local population, have shown a tremendous fear and dislike for ‘foreigners’ (Americans not from Hawaii). Hawaii allowed residents only to travel between islands without quarantine during the pandemic, and required visitors to have reservations to leave. The state has taken numerous steps aimed at placating local hostility towards outsiders, and placating xenophobic attitudes about Covid-19, including towards other American citizens.

They’ve considered banning tourists from the best beaches on weekends, and some restaurants have refused service to tourists.

Early in the pandemic Hawaii was able to use its position as an island to keep the virus at bay, in much the same manner as Pacific Island nations. They once prepared to welcome visitors with the slogan ‘The Safest Place In The World”. But that was before mutations in SARS-CoV-2 gave us the Delta variant and more rapid spread. Now Hawaii is facing surges like many other U.S. states have and like Europe has seen.

So once again, blame foreigners – and the solution is to keep out foreigners (fellow citizens). Hawaii’s Governor David Ige is asking people to refrain from coming to the state.

“It’s a risky time to be traveling right now,” Ige said on Monday. “We do know that it is not a good time to travel to the islands.”

…“We know that the visitors who choose to come to the island will not have the typical kind of holiday that they expect when they visit Hawaii,” Ige said.

Hawaii isn’t re-imposing travel restrictions at this point. Fully vaccinated tourists can visit without quarantine, along with those with required negative Covid-19 tests.

Gathering sizes are being limited in parts of the state, including on Oahu. Honolulu restaurants are operating at 50% capacity but groups aren’t permitted to be larger than 10 (as long as parties of 12 split into two tables, risk is somehow reduced).

Hawaii is recording its largest number of Covid-19 cases of the pandemic, at around an average of 700 per day. That’s similar prevalence to my home city of Austin. ICUs are close to or at capacity. Hawaii is no longer ‘keeping the virus out’ it is already there. There are reasons to take mitigation steps to slow spread to get more people vaccinated and reduce the likelihood of infection and severity of illness, but ‘keeping people out’ doesn’t really change the trajectory of the pandemic for the state. And Hawaii has one of the nation’s highest rates of vaccination already.

If there’s a reason to reconsider travel from low prevalence places, it’s that risk in Hawaii is greater for tourists (though most tourists will spend time with others outdoors more than they will at home) and that there’s limited health care resources if they do get sick.

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. Im vaccinated – I’m still going in about a week. My chances of getting sick enough are slim.

  2. If you’re vaccinated, you may get COVID but it is unlikely to make you very ill. Perhaps the state should simply require vaccination or a negative test (admittedly an inconvenience) to visit Hawaii.

    But either way, we are going to have to learn to live with COVID. Thanks to the PRC’s ham-fisted research, it’s in the wild and will be for the rest of our lives. So we can’t crap our pants every time a case arises, as the NZ prime minister did. Because it’s never going away. Much like the flu.

  3. I think you’re right Stogieguy7, you just can’t shut down borders (which in the case of countries that aren’t islands seems useless) or lock down millions every time someone gets sick. It is in the mammalian reservoir forever and so will keep coming back. After all, in the last half century we’ve learned to live with West Nile, AIDS, and Legionnaire’s. And typically diseases will likely get less virulent over time as people and the virus adapt to each other. Push everybody to get vaccinated, realize there will sadly be casualties despite our best efforts and maybe the human race will realize that it doesn’t control nature. We’ve been through this story many, many times in the history of our species. The 1889 and 1918 epidemics were only the last in many big ones.

  4. If Hawaii is serious about Tourists destroying their environment, why are they not simply purchasing room blocks at hotels on their islands. It would keep out many tourists, and keep the hotels afloat.

    They can purchase meals for their own homeless using their own food establishments too.

  5. I’m in Honolulu right now. Arrived Saturday for a work assignment. While the national media claim thousands of people are dropping dead of the covids in Hawaii, hospitals are piling up the bodies in the streets, and even the local advertising of Subaru giveaways to convince people to “get the shot”, none of that stuff is actually happening, it’s complete horseshit.

    The barcode or wristband scan at the airport was quick and efficient.
    On the ground, most people are masked up indoors, as are some outdoors and finding restaurants is a bit tough with the current capacity limits. Everything else is operating as expected.

  6. @Kevin – “While the national media claim thousands of people are dropping dead of the covids in Hawaii, hospitals are piling up the bodies in the streets,”
    LOL. A bit of hyperbole me thinks?

  7. Ha! the most democratic (politically) state in the country with the most draconian rules still has a huge outbreak of cases. Can we please all admit now that these stupid mask rules dont do anything and that vaccines dont protect anyone from spreading the virus?

  8. He’s right.

    Here in the Pacific we have a stark contrast.

    Hawaii and Tahiti are being slaughtered by a wave of Delta Covid brought in by American tourists, with significant numbers of deaths, overwhelmed hospitals and economic ruin.

    Meanwhile Rarotonga and New Caledonia are peer countries (Hawaii and Rarotonga in Polynesia, Tahiti and New Caledonia as French territories) which refuse to let in high risk nationalities like Americans and have preserved their health systems and economies. (Just like Australia and New Zealand have preserved their economies and health systems by locking high-risk visitor groups like Americans, Asians and Europeans out).

    In Rarotonga the travel sector is full to capacity because of their travel bubble with New Zealand.

    Pacific destinations have a clear choice, and letting in Americans while their infection rates are so out of control has been a catastrophe for Hawaii and Tahiti.

  9. I’m perfectly happy to stay away from Hawaii, and would not be disappointed if we gave the Hawaiians independence from their American oppressors (perhaps in conjunction with D.C. statehood, to maintain 50 states with a similar political balance). Any desire I had to visit Hawaii is gone after witnessing their stupidity and xenophobia during the pandemic. There are many other tropical destinations that are far more welcoming of tourists, even if Hawaii has the convenience of not requiring international travel.

  10. You can make the argument that Tahiti, or any of the other countries in the regions have a right to autonomy. They obviously do. Hawaii last I checked was the 50th state. Last I checked the rules are a bit different between states and countries.

    The bulk of the people in the Hospitals for COVID are unvaccinated people. The numbers do not lie.
    You cannot vaccinate 6 out of 10 people, and be surprised when 4 end up in the hospital.

  11. Instead of outright banning tourists, Hawaii could simply have increased the daily tourist tax to say $500 per night per person. Hawaii would have made big money and kept all the riff raff away.

  12. To reinforce my earlier point.

    The two French Pacific territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia both have populations of 300,000.

    New Caledonia hasn’t had a Covid case for months, bars and restaurants and everyday life are normal and there are no Covid patients in hospital whatsoever. Zero!

    The impact of American tourists to Bora Bora is that French Polynesia has 1,200 cases and a dozen deaths from Covid every day and every hospital is beyond capacity.

    Places like Hawaii and Tahiti need to work out whether the cost of accepting American tourists in the middle of a pandemic in terms of health, deaths and restrictions to everyday life is worthwhile.

    Poor countries may have no choice, but Hawaii can compare itself with Australia and New Zealand and Tahiti can compare itself with New Caledonia and neighbouring Rarotonga. And all four of those well-off Pacific destinations have decided that it’s not worthwhile letting visitors from high-risk places in.

  13. Gary’s article raises significant questions about what is in Hawaii’s best interests.

    I live in Queensland, Australia, home of the Great Barrier Reef. We don’t want to live what Hawaii is living, with overwhelmed hospitals, significant numbers of deaths and disabilities resulting from Covid as well as the economic impact of Covid-related restrictions.

    Life for us is normal, from bars to restaurants to stadia, because we lock out visitors from anywhere with current Covid cases. Some travel providers are struggling, but that is inevitable in a pandemic.

    Every time we get a single case we have learned that the quickest way back to safety and economic normality is a short, sharp lockdown so that our contact tracers have time to isolate the infectious contacts, and within a week or two we are back to normal. Full restaurants. Full stadia. Normal life.

    Modelling shows that it is safe to reopen when we reach around 80% or the population over 12 years fully vaccinated. We miss our American and British cousins, but we have seen the disaster they are living by prematurely opening up at low vaccination levels, and we have no interest in doing the same.

    The Hawaiian people have always been more like us than their US mainland compatriots. Their government made a terrible error of judgment in allowing unrestricted travel from the US mainland, and it has brought their state to its knees.

    I don’t think it’s fair to accuse the people of Hawaii of xenophobia towards other Americans. They just look at the carnage that they are enduring by letting Americans in – carnage that we in most of the Pacific are avoiding – and they rightly conclude that letting in people from the US mainland in mid-pandemic is not worth the damage it causes.

  14. What Hawaii needs to do is to bring back pretravel Covid testing. Their infection rate exploded after they allowed all vaccinated travelers to enter without testing in early July. Currently, a lot of the spread is amongst locals, and there’s suspicion that delta was brought in by travelers returning home from the ninth island (AKA Las Vegas).

  15. It seems to me that Hawaii’s dilemma is their main industry is based on tourists and if they don’t have that they are in a world of hurt. Caught between a rock and a hard place.

  16. 1) Hawaii is America. Can’t keep “Americans” out of their own country. Pretty clear the rules Hawaii imposed didn’t work. And Hawaiian people are very racist towards whites. That’s not even up for debate. Justified, probably, but justified racism is an unspeakable topic because we have things in America that just can never even be mentioned because you know, “narratives”.
    2) Not sure why people think Australia and New Zealand are operating normally. Never ending, off and on lockdowns is not normal. Not being able to travel out of your own country or state or city or return to it is not normal. Arresting people for leaving their homes is communist level shit. Of course no one would accept authoritarianism if just thrust on them. China knows this. Gotta do it in small pieces and gradually, and always with moral superiority and “for the common good” and safety.
    Just admit, your countries are controlled by proxy by China. They want your minerals and to send their kids to your universities and buy real estate there.
    You know I’m not wrong but you can’t be seen in your social circles as “not caring” and being “one of those people” so you justify your conformity in your head and just go along with it.

  17. The place keeping people out means that the people from outside the lace won’t be in a position to possibly add as much to the burden on the local healthcare system at a time of rising COVID-19 cases already pressuring the place’s healthcare system again.

  18. I’m so intrigued by the folks squawking that “vaccines and mask mandates don’t work!”. Do you not realize that literally 90% of folks in the hospital with COVID in Hawaii right now are unvaccinated? Why are those dots not lining up for you?

    There are studies aplenty that show masks are effective and the vaccine helps to keep you out of the hospital. I just don’t get how a global pandemic has been made a partisan issue.

  19. @MEDC
    Please link to a study that has proven a mask has saved someones life from covid (not n95). Please also link to a recent study saying the vaxxed cant spread the virus.

  20. @medc.. No they dont work.. Hawaii case in point. Anything under N95 is nothing more than window dressing, optics, and false sense of security. Thats the data, thats the science. Dozens of document articles out there the crazy liberal media and social media companies try and bury.

  21. I’m happy to never go there again. Shame, cause it’s a nice place. But when the people elect idiots to govern them, I don’t want any part of their whimsy. They’ll be crying for tourism in a few years.

  22. lol original vaccines, lockdowns and masks did nothing, and people are still begging for boosters. sorry to those who were (and will continue) buying the lies

  23. Ige needs to grow a pair and ban all disease spreading toxic narcissists from the Madland from visiting Hawaii. Period. A hui hou.

  24. At this point, eff the anti-vaxxing MAGA mouth breathers…yeah that vaccine doesn’t work at all! Definitely not! You should most definitely not get the vaccine but do travel to FL/TX and gather indoors in this hot weather with all your friends!


  25. Hawaii had 18 months to increase hospital and ICU capacity on all the islands. Instead it squandered its time and now is paying the price.

    At some point people will figure out you can’t contain the virus anymore than you can contain the flu or common cold. Yes, you can temporarily keep it out (if you have an island) but only at great economic cost, not to mention liberty.

    The only risk to vaccinated tourists is that Hawaii will not have an ER bed for you if you cardiac or stroke out. But personally I would rather be in Hawaii than Mexico if that happens anyway. (For those who are counting Vegas casinos are the best place to have a heart attack as they have trained staff and defibs everywhere.)

    At this point it is 100% community spread and unvaccinated residents – the tourists are only bringing much needed $$$

  26. This whole topic has become so attitudinal here on Gary’s blog— it’s nuts. Half you people sound like ranting idiots. Hawaii is a pleasant vacation, Hawaiians do their best to throw a good party for you in their homeland, they’re mostly proud Americans, and it’s gorgeous. If right wingers don’t want to visit because of who Hawaiians elect to represent themselves, fine, please stay home and the rest of us will enjoy. I’m disgusted with the politics of some states, but I wouldn’t expect the locals to elect someone just because I support them, as a non-resident. And I don’t let their politics dictate my travel plans. Vaccines work and there is ample evidence. Masks work likewise. If I were King, you’d all be required to show a foolproof vax certificate to go out anywhere or travel, but I’m not. Instead, I fear you. I fear your arrogant ignorance. I fear your danger to us all, and I fear what new and more destructive, more virulent variants will come from your failure to help contain this thing. But I can’t tell you anything; you know it all. I just sigh and have to tell you: I’ll be glad to return to visiting Hawaii often when it’s prudent and won’t miss the nonsense expressed here a bit.

  27. I think it’s really all about the southern border and all the undocumented streaming over with their COVID and giving it to all the God-fearing WASP Americans. That’s got to be it. It’s always that isn’t it?

  28. Typical Hawaii attitude before Covid: “Get lost, haole”
    Typical Hawaii attitude during Covid: “Get lost, haole”

  29. “I’m so sick of the evil haole getting us all sick by sitting on the beach alone. Now off I go to the mega church after my trip to vegas where i didn’t wear a mask all week…”

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