Sixty-four passengers from Japan arrived at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport yesterday under the state's pre-travel testing program, allowing them to bypass the mandatory two-week quarantine.
State officials hope the arrivals on an ANA flight from Haneda in Tokyo are the start of a robust return of visitors from Japan, a major market for Hawaii's COVID-19 devastated tourism industry.
"This allows us to revive our economy while keeping our community, the people who work here, and those in the hospitality industry safe," said Gov. David Ige in a news release.
The visitors are the first international passengers allowed to the islands under the Safe Travels pre-flight testing program. The program permits travelers who show negative results from a COVID test taken by a lab approved by the state to skip the 14-day quarantine.
Passengers from the U.S. mainland began arriving under the Safe Travel program on Oct. 15. Several thousand have been coming for pleasure and vacation daily but still far below pre-pandemic numbers, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority data.
Large numbers of tourists from Japan are not expected immediately. When the visitors return to Japan, they are subject to their country's quarantine, which can be a disincentive to travel. COVID-19 tests in Japan are also expensive, costing hundreds of dollars.
The number of flights from Japan will also be limited initially. ANA plans another flight on Nov. 20 and Japan Airlines has scheduled flights on Nov. 10 and Nov. 23. Hawaiian Airlines plans flights from Japan on each Saturday in November.
The tourism industry is nonetheless eager to see more Japan visitors. In September, the Hawaii Tourism Authority reported 79 visitors arrived from Japan in September compared to 143,928 visitors a year earlier.
The state is working with other countries such as Canada and South Korea to revive tourism under the pre-flight test program.