Uncertainty surrounds Hawaii’s pending tourism reopening

Last week’s announcement of reopening Hawaii tourism starting October 15th with a negative pre-travel COVID-19 test result has mostly been met with optimism. Still, there’s a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the plans and the future of Hawaii tourism.

Hawaii’s testing plan needs more details.

Some important details of the pre-travel testing plan have been provided, such as

  • Travelers of all ages must pre-test.
  • Travelers are fully responsible for the costs of the tests.
  • Tests must be an FDA-authorized Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) performed by a CLIA certified lab.
  • Travelers are fully responsible for making sure they take the approved test.
  • Tests must be taken 72-hours prior to their trip to Hawaii.
  • If test results are not received in time, the traveler must quarantine in a hotel until a negative result arrives.
  • Check www.hawaiicovid19.com/travel for more details.

Hopefully, more details will be forthcoming. There are a few very important ones that we think need to be addressed:

  • How is the 72-hour window of testing defined? When does the clock start and stop on the 72-hour window?
  • How will timezones affect the 72-hour window?
  • What methods/forms are required to prove a negative COVID-19 test result?
  • How will children under the age of 12 get testing if the testing partners won’t test them?
  • How do international visitors fit into the initial reopening plan?

That’s just to name a few top questions. We’re sure even more will emerge over time.

Will Hawaii’s COVID-19 case counts be under control? 

Starting at the end of July, Hawaii had some pretty dramatic case count increases, particularly on Oahu. In August and early September, the healthcare system was on a path towards being overloaded. A partial inter-island travel quarantine was put into place. Oahu went on a second stay-at-home order, which is due to expire this week, but may be continue in some fashion.

In the last couple of weeks, case counts have come down to more manageable levels and appear to be keeping on a downward trend. Hopefully, it will stay that way.

With all that said, let’s put “high” case counts in perspective. So far, less than 1% of Hawaii’s population has contracted COVID-19.

What local restrictions will be in effect?

There have been some recent limitations on beaches, parks and trails, particularly on Oahu. These strict measures were put into place due to spiking case numbers on Oahu.

Social distancing and face coverings are required in most businesses and public spaces throughout the Hawaiian islands. For further information, see this page for current guidance in Hawaii.

Restrictions vary by island/county. They’ve also been changing to meet the needs of the times. On this page, we’ve linked to all the Hawaii county pages. Check the county pages for up-to-date information on their current restrictions.

What will and won’t be open in Hawaii?

Oh boy, that’s a million-dollar question!

Some shops, restaurants, tours and attractions have been shuttered for months. Some may reopen right away. Some may need to wait for enough visitors to return to the islands to justify reopening.

Some hotels are saying they’ll reopen in October. Others are waiting until November and December.

In this article by the Star-Advertiser, Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii says, “We’ve been told that a little more than half of Hawaii’s businesses can’t reopen until tourism does.”

This Maui News article provides a little bit of insight into what decisions tour companies have been and will be facing.

Sadly some businesses have already had to close permanently. Last week, the Star-Advertiser published a list of over 50 Hawaii restaurants that are permanently closed. Per Hawaii News Now, Hawaii has the nation’s highest rates of businesses that are closed now or for good.

How many people will actually visit Hawaii?

That’s yet another million dollar question. Travel, in generally, is down significantly — not just in Hawaii, but everywhere. There are less flights and people have less disposable income. On top of that, people fear catching COVID-19 while traveling.

Prior to COVID-19, Hawaii averaged between 30,000 to 35,000 daily arrivals. We’ve heard some officials saying that 5,000 per day may be optimistic in the beginning.

Per our analysis last year, of Hawaii’s visitor arrival data, October is one of the least-visited months. November is not far behind. Here’s the chart we created for that article.

So, if you’re looking for peace and quiet, this coming October and November should be very, very nice.

How welcome will visitors be?

It pains us to have to write this section, but we have to be honest with concerns. As we’ve said before, we give our readers the very same advice we’d give to our family and friends. If either had plans to go to Hawaii upon re-opening, we’d tell them to be hopeful, but cautious.

There will most certainly be businesses who will be thrilled to welcome visitors with the aloha spirit that Hawaii’s known for. We would expect customer-facing employees to be pleasant. It’s the interactions with others that may, and we emphasis may, not be as amiable.

Visitors have generally been vilified since the start of this pandemic. Per a Hawaii News Now story on March 21, Hawaii Department of Health officials worried that visitors were being unfairly blamed. At the time, over 86% of the cases were brought to the islands by residents who traveled outside the state and started community spread. Despite the worries from the DOH back in March, Hawaii has done nothing to better educate Hawaii residents that visitors are the least to blame. Our guess is that it’s easy to blame outsiders.

We’ve seen numerous comments blaming Hawaii’s virus spread on visitors and causing lockdowns and unemployment. Even the state’s largest newspaper published a harsh editorial column saying, “Tourism made us sick.”

The ire aimed at visitors has not been helped by the selfish quarantine breakers who came to Hawaii and shirked the rules. Through mid-July nearly 200 people had been arrested for breaking quarantine. We’ve not seen a more recent update on that number.  A volunteer group formed to help catch them. Here’s just one of several stories about trying to catch quarantine breakers and, here’s just one of several stories of quarantine breakers caught and arrested.

To complete this particular topic, it should be noted that Hawaii has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Typically, with unemployment, crime increases. Visitors could possibly be targets of crime. So, if you are going to Hawaii, it’s important that you never leave valuables unattended in your rental car or otherwise unsecured.

Will officials move the date again?

The opening date of the pre-travel testing program was originally due to start on August 1, then moved to September 1, then moved to October 1 at the earliest. Will the October 15 opening date stay firm? We hope so!

As you can see, many questions linger. We’re all navigating through uncertainty right now. So, how do you feel about traveling to Hawaii when it opens? Are you ready to hit the beautiful beaches or are you going to wait and see?

  1. Hello,
    My two friends and I are coming on 10/16. I contacted the CVS office and they have all the information to begin testing soon to honor their partnership with HW and 72 hour pcr
    pre-test they will provide in drive throughs throughout the US CVSs. I feel this time is a go as everything is in place. The CVS Minute Clinic Office told me to call before the 3 day pretest to get an appointment in my area. We have goggles and masks, sanitizer and we’re ready to go! I’ve even made reservations at restaurants already for our trip. This is our 3rd try since April to try to go and we are excited and will be careful and follow the rules.

    1. Sheila Beal says:

      Excellent! Have a great trip and when you get back please let tell us about your experience.

      1. Sterling G Hamilton says:

        So, we are supposed to buy plane tickets, book a hotel, condo, or house, pay for it all, get tested within 72 hours of departure, then, if the results are not in, we must stay in our place once there, and, if we should test positive (even though they cannot tell me if it was influenza, a cold, MERS, SARS, or COVID-19 nor WHEN I was exposed), I must stay in quarantine until I leave. At this point, there is only about a 25% chance of actually visiting without losing thousands due to a test that MAY be confirmed in 3 days or a positive without any specifics other than: “yep, you have been exposed ‘sometime’; by what or when, we don’t know.”
        I will never take that chance until I am guaranteed that I will get a full refund for my travel and stay should I test positive.

    2. Karen Hendrickson says:


      Thanks for info about CVS…at this time we have a CVS in our area that are doing the tests, BUT they require a health assessment form filled out to see if you qualify to have the test..in other words, if you have symtoms is the only way to get a test. Hopefully by what you have posted, they will provide tests for “travel purposes” (in our area), so we can also enjoy a trip to Hawaii..soon!


      1. Sheila Beal says:

        Since the pre-travel testing program hasn’t officially started yet, it’s possible that not every location has all the information that they need at this time…which raises a good question…will they entire network be trained and ready to allow pre-travel testing?

      2. CRISTINA ABDALA says:

        Pretty much all you have to say is you are not feeling good, have a sore throat and cough and you can get tested and even better you were around someone else that tested positive.

    3. Lashawn Lee says:

      Hi Anita,

      I’m going there for Christmas. Can you please share the names of the restaurants you will be visiting?

  2. Christi B. says:

    What about inter island travel? Is it to Honolulu or from Honolulu that does not require a retest?

    1. Sheila Beal says:

      Currently, those traveling from Oahu to the neighbor islands have to quarantine for 14-days. Those traveling from the neighbor islands to Oahu do not have to quarantine in Oahu. At the moment, there’s no testing for inter-island testing, but it’s being considered.

  3. Thanks for the update.
    I was advised by CVS that although the results should be on time, there have been delays for a few days, at times, which means quarantine in Hawaii until the results are in.
    I am currently drafting a lengthy email to a news outlet in Hawaii to address many of my concerns.( It’s too lengthy to fit here.) I hope that some of my concerns are resolved.
    I also have to contact travel insurance companies since many won’t cover pandemics. Also, if you are negative for covid19, but your test was delayed and you were quarantined ,will travel insurance cover your loss if you have to quarantine in a different facility if you are not ill. If you are positive, and you find out AFTER you arrive you will be quarantined there,. If you know on time, before you leave, you could have quarantined in the comfort of your home, not in a closed hotel room.
    I have too many questions to comfortably make reservations, and will never travel to anywhere that has any possibility of a quarantine.

  4. Thank you for all the information and especially for being candid about the potential social undercurrents toward visitors, and being realistic about re-opening of tourism. My wife and I love visiting Hawai’i and am hopeful that someday we will be able to again return to the islands feeling safely and fully connected to the aina and ohana we have always felt prior to COVID.

  5. I wish everyone luck with their test and getting to Hawaii. Hoping it all works out for those attempting. We’ve given up on this year. Seems it’s just a mess and hassle to do anything anywhere. Hopefully, things will calm down by next year and we can go. Next year, we’ll try later in the year. I just feel bad for everyone who’s business all over have had to shut down for good. It’s just so hard to watch it all happening with what seems to be no end in sight. Makes me sad!

  6. There is a lot of skepticism around Hawaii opening back up to visitors, and it’s well deserved.

    1. The opening date continues to get pushed back.
    2. Sterling G Hamilton makes a good point above, there is risk and you may spend thousands of dollars just to quarantine if you test positive within the 72 hour period.

    But Hawaii is a beautiful place and worth it. Good luck to all, and safe travels.

  7. Rental vehicles and quarantine:
    1. Hawaii regulations state that you cannot rent a vehicle if you will be quarantined.
    2. CVS and Walgreens tests may take longer than 72 hours to get results(Walgreens site states up to 4 days, and possibly longer..see their site)
    3. If a tourist arrives with no test results a quarantine will be mandated, so they cannot pick up a prepaid rented vehicle on their chosen day. (Vehicles may have to be non prepaid rentals…(I would check with the car rental company before leaving home)
    4. Hawaii government will have to arrange for tourists to be bused to hotels. (What if the tourist’s chosen prepaid lodging facility does not allow quarantined persons)
    5. During peak times those airports get busy . I’ve been to 4 major airports in Hawaii and have seen them in peak times and can envision a lot of confusion with new rules being added.
    6. How will an airport, such as the one in Kona, handle transporting passengers during busy times if they must be bused, to a hotel. It is possible to have MANY passengers who did not receive their test results that will need to gather their bags and be bused to a hotel. The confusion at the airport, and the delays to reach your lodging will be incredible, especially for those who did not expect this.
    7. If you prepaid for a rental car, do you get a refund. How will you pick up that vehicle after your quarantine(assuming your test is negative).
    The Hawaiian government has a lot of planning and adjusting rules if they wish arrivals to run smoothly, and keep tourists returning.

    1. Sheila Beal says:

      All good questions, Lopaka.

  8. Brenda Smith says:

    I plan on visiting my Grand son and his family on Oct 28th and stay 3 weeks as a care giver for his daughter while they go to work. Will I have to quarantine for 14 days at a hotel or can I go to their hose and quarantine if I can’t find a CLIA lab here to have the NAAT test done in time.

  9. I just heard on KHON2 news (online)that a new pre test which would give results in 13 minutes will be implemented. I have to learn more about it and if it looks doable and it will be available in my area.,than I would consider booking a trip. This will eliminate all of the concerns that I posted on September 23rd . If this rapid test is available then my post could be removed from this site.

  10. Maui airport rental car places close at 6 pm. If you’re plane comes in after that, you’ll have to figure out how to get to your condo and then come back and get the car the following morning.

    1. Sheila Beal says:

      We checked both Hertz and Avis websites for Maui’s OGG and they’re both open until 9pm.

  11. With the way the government keeps moving the goalposts on the reopening (as you point out), it would be foolhardy to make plane and hotel reservations for a trip to Hawaii at this time. Let’s take the case of a person who was trying to decide in August whether a trip should be booked for early October. Such a person, looking at a projected September 1 opening date, might well conclude that it certainly would be safe to book a trip for early October. Wrong! But what I find even more disturbing is that even if I did everything right and got tested 72 hours before the trip and tested negative, I could still get targeted (as an unwelcome visitor) by one of the quarantine-breaker hunters.

    1. Not foolhardy at all in my opinion Mark. Especially for me because I have a place on Maui. So all I have to book is air and that is very easily changed if necessary.

      I’m going Oct 17th and I cant wait. I’m looking forward to snorkeling with no crowds. I’ve read reports that the sea life has rebounded. I’ve been to Maui many times so I don’t care if lots of things aren’t open yet.

    2. Mark.. I totally agree with you. I think that it’s too soon for me to travel there now.

      I was going to wait, but I did make reservations for 2021 yesterday. I did that to reserve the location and I can cancel up to 1 month before the check in date for a full refund of my deposit.. So I can keep up with progress and changes and have time to cancel if I am uncomfortable with ANY procedures and, or regulations. Also, I want to keep track of the progress of the virus. I won’t travel if I feel that it is unhealthy for me to travel. (I am over 70)
      I have some concerns regarding track and trace .

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