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2 months after asking tourists to stay away, governor once again throws out the welcome mat

Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 2:37 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 19, 2021 at 6:04 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In August, as COVID cases surged in Hawaii and hospitals filled, Gov. David Ige made national headlines when he asked visitors to stay away until infections declined.

In recent weeks, as restrictions have been eased, the governor has pledged to set a date for the tourism industry to welcome visitors once again.

And on Tuesday, he did.

“Beginning Nov. 1, we want to invite and encourage fully vaccinated visitors and residents to travel for business or leisure trans-Pacific and inter-island,” Ige said, speaking at an event on Hawaii Island.

“Our health care system has responded and it feels like we do have the ability to move forward with economic recovery,” the governor added. “It is now safe for a fully vaccinated residents and visitors to resume nonessential travel to and within the state of Hawaii.”

The tourism industry celebrated the news Tuesday, saying they’re preparing for an increase in travel.

“While we recognize that there are still details that need to be sorted out ... this announcement is an important first step toward getting our economy moving again safely and judiciously,” said Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association President and CEO Mufi Hannemann.

Ige’s request back in August was just that ― a request.

He didn’t make any changes to the state’s Safe Travels program and visitors continued to come to the islands. But tourism arrivals in August and September did decline from a summer high and industry officials reported tens of millions of dollars in cancellations.

It was a stark contrast from May, June and July when there concerns about overtourism, overwhelmed businesses, worker shortages and a lack of rental cars.

Will the travel industry be ready in two weeks?

“There will still be some challenges along the way, but I really would like this to be our problem our dilemma as oppose to what we experienced in September and October,” Hannemann said.

“Group travel, large gatherings so forth are still going to be a challenge. But the sooner that we can get word that we are officially welcoming people back from the governor of the state, the better off we are going to be.”

Oddly, the governor made his announcement Tuesday at a private event at Kona’s airport rather than holding a news conference ― as he did in announcing that visitors should reschedule their trips.

The Governor’s Office subsequently followed up with a news release, saying Ige was giving the green light for vaccinated trans-Pacific travelers to return. Under the Safe Travels program, fully vaccinated travelers and those who test negative for COVID are able to skip a mandatory quarantine.

There has been no date set yet for when Safe Travels will go away entirely.

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