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New restriction on international travelers could slow down recovery of Hawaii tourism

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    HONOLULU (KITV) — Effective today, all air passengers entering the United States from a foreign country must show a negative COVID-19 test result or a medical record of recovery from the virus. President Joe Biden signed this executive order incorporating these CDC recommendations, including requiring airlines to stop non-compliant travelers from boarding planes.

Only a handful of direct flights arrive in Hawaii each day from foreign countries, such as Japan, Canada, South Korea and the Philippines, and those airlines say they are enforcing the order.

According to data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, most international travelers fly to Hawaii using domestic flights. That means the new rule would have a ripple effect on tourism.

Mira Yoon says the new federal order will further hurt tourism, and local businesses like her tour company Tournet and wedding consultancy La Bella will shoulder the brunt of that hurt.

“Our business is very suffering. It stopped. So all of our workers are not working at all,” she said.

She and other members of the Korean business community are lobbying state leaders to include South Korea in the Safe Travels pre-travel testing program.

“We heard some of the hospitals, labs, they decide to participate in this program so I hope they get together and the Hawaii government can organize and announce the good news to Korea,” Yoon says.

If approved by Governor David Ige, South Koreans would join Canadians and Japanese travelers in being able to by-pass the 10-day mandatory quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test-result.

“Hopefully this vaccine and all the program the government do will hopefully work for travelers so we can see the travel market back,” Yoon said.

Some members of the Filipino business community also want Hawaii to add the Philippines to the Safe Travels program, and view the new rule as another hurdle for travelers.

In a statement, the Philippine Consulate General in Honolulu said the rule “affects not just Filipinos but all international passengers coming to the United States. While it may be viewed an an inconvenience, we understand that it is a necessary measure to ensure the health and safety of all. Even the Philippines has in place measures to safeguard public health.”

Wayne Ishihara is president of the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce — he feels the new restriction takes away some of the progress made since Japan became part of the pre-travel testing program in November.

“We were hoping this past year to celebrate with many of our Japan business relation companies are a celebration of a 120th anniversary of our organization.” Ishihara said. “If it loosens up a bit in a bubble, they are willing to come to do their business and to strengthen the relationships that they’ve established with us here in Hawaii.”

Many people in the tourism industry believe giving travelers a path to visit Hawaii is better than not having one at all.

According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, there are about 50 direct flights between Japan and Hawaii per month with about 60 trusted testing partners in Japan — infrastructure tourism officials say took months to establish.

“We were pretty much ahead of the country, the rest of the country for this kind of restriction,” said Eric Takahata, managing director, Hawaii Tourism Japan. “In that sense, it won’t affect the Japanese market that much, because they were used to doing this from last November.”

“Inbound travelers to Hawai’i were already required to provide negative test results prior to departure, and this will remain the standard for the foreseeable future. Due to the fact that the CDC’s new pre-arrival testing program exactly mirrors the Safe Travels program, it is unlikely that this will affect travel to Hawai’i in any measurable way,” said Mufi Hannemann, Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association President & CEO. “The fact that the CDC is insisting on testing prior to travel really highlights the fact that pre-arrival testing is an effective tool to mitigate risk of travel-related cases of COVID-19 from trans-Pac or interisland travelers.

Representatives from Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines told KITV-4 they don’t anticipate having to change their operating schedules because of the new restriction.

A representative from JTB, the largest travel agency in Japan, says the agency is advising clients that the federal order recommends a 7-day self-quarantine that could cancel the exemption of the pre-travel testing program. But Lt. Gov. Josh Green says as long as the COVID-19 test is done through a state-approved lab partner, a traveler can bypass any quarantine in Hawaii.

A spokesperson from Governor David Ige’s office also gave this statement to KITV-4: “For international travelers coming to the State of Hawaii, only test results from Trusted Testing Partners will be accepted for purposes of by-passing the state’s 10-day traveler quarantine. On January 21, 2021, the President of the United States issued an executive order requiring, among other things, that masks must be worn at airports and on airplanes. The federal government is also contemplating additional measures relating to periods of self-quarantine or self-isolation and/or testing after entry into the United States. For the time being, the state is making no changes to the Safe Travels program.”

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