COVID-19 Threatens Tourism Reopening, Return Of Industry

Aug 7, 2020

Hawaiʻi’s current surge in COVID-19 cases could halt the state’s plan of rolling out the welcome mat to tourists next month. And even if tourism resumes, thereʻs no guarantee that visitors will feel safe enough to return or that residents will be assured that tourists are relatively coronavirus free.

Hawaiʻiʻs largest economic industry – tourism – is set to reopen September 1st. But that may have to be put on hold until community spread of COVID-19 can be contained.

Local economist Sumner La Croix led a panel discussion yesterday for the Hawaii Economic Association on what needs to happen for Hawaiʻi tourism to resume under COVID-19.

"There really is no trade off between controlling the epidemic and revitalizing and reopening the economy. If weʻre going to have a strong economy, which implies a vibrant tourism sector, we have to have the epidemic under control," he said.

"Itʻs safer behavior by Hawaiʻi residents, itʻs better performance by Hawaiʻi government, and it's putting in place a pre-departure and in-Hawaiʻi testing of air passengers that reassures Hawaiʻi residents that tourists coming to visit are relatively safe."

La Croix says the stateʻs current plan for testing tourists could eliminate 80 to 90 percent of infections. But if tourism numbers return to pre-COVID levels, testing capacity could be a problem. Not only because of the recent spike in cases in Hawaiʻi but across the country.

"With this current surge in cases, this kind of testing availability is implausible," he said. "The results of this would be that weʻre going to have a lid put on the number of tourists that will ultimately come here. That doesnʻt mean thought that we shouldnʻt move ahead."

No announcement has been made on whether the state plans to roll back the September 1st reopening. Gov. David Ige says he plans to address the issue within the next week.