Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

Hawaii Gov. David Ige's announcement of a pretravel coronavirus testing program has done little to spark bookings for the Aloha State, according to travel advisors and wholesalers. 

Visitation to the Islands has cratered during the pandemic, down 99% for the month of May year over year, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Since March 26, a mandatory 14-day quarantine has been in place for all trans-Pacific arrivals. Starting Aug. 1, travelers who are tested within 72 hours of arriving in Hawaii with proof of a negative result will be allowed to skip the quarantine, which orders people to stay in their hotel room or residence for the full two weeks (except for medical emergencies) or face a $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail. 

But Hawaii specialists said travelers are playing the waiting game with the Islands, content to see how the program works before jumping onboard. Many details of the testing program have yet to be announced. 

"I think there are a lot of questions about how the testing is going to work out," said Calvin Kanoho, a native of Kauai who now operates Inner Circle Travel in San Francisco.

Kanoho sold one trip to Hawaii for October shortly after the testing announcement, but found little other interest after sending out an email blast with the news.  

Classic Vacations president David Hu said interest exists for Hawaii travel, but there were too many questions left unanswered by Ige's announcement.

He said Classic was getting "lots of questions regarding testing and exactly what is open/closed once they are there. So lots of questions, and we really don't have the answers. Lots of people still want to go but need clarity about the situation. Once there is more clarity, there definitely is demand."

Once the pretravel testing plan is in place, and if travelers see it operating smoothly, interest in Hawaii is likely to pick up, Hu said.

"I don't think there is a rush to book all of the sudden with the uncertainty," he said. "I think people are inquiring further out since by then they hope they will have more clarity about procedures and such."  

The advisors and wholesalers are keeping a watchful eye on the pandemic metrics in the U.S. as states such as California, Texas, Florida and Arizona have experienced recent spikes.

Hawaii officials still have yet to detail how travelers are expected to get tested and share the results. Lt. Gov. Josh Green has said the state is in talks with CVS to provide testing, but no agreement has been announced. Hawaii state officials have said that testing could be hard to procure for potential visitors, especially in places dealing with a rise in infections.

Susan Bleecher, a Beverly Hills-based travel advisor and Hawaii specialist, has been selling Hawaii for more than two decades, but saw zero interest from her clientele after the pretravel testing announcement.

"People do not feel safe. Period," she said. "My customer base does skew older, and they don't feel safe traveling. They're not going until there's a vaccine."

Most of her Hawaii bookings canceled once the pandemic hit and Hawaii implemented the quarantine, with a handful rebooking for next year, she said.

Additionally, as the number of infections continues to grow across much of the country, and many states have had to walk back reopening plans, there is concern among clients that Hawaii too could change course.

"The way things are going, it's hard to say what things will be like in a few months and what states will be allowing," Kanoho said. "My concern is: Will the governor come back and change things again?"

His clients are unwilling or simply do not have the time to spend two weeks in quarantine, he said, so his Hawaii business has largely been on hold since March. As someone from Hawaii, Kanoho also said he is conscious of not promoting the Islands and tourism before the community is ready.

Meanwhile, he has started focusing on new areas that he never thought of before as he has learned to book travel for clients in the age of Covid-19.  

"I've tried to get creative," he said. "For example, I'm booking my clients on 787s and 777s, which have newer HEPA air filters. They are more modern and have a better layout. I get my clients the solo seats. For example, my client going to Hawaii in October, I put him on a 777 to Maui. It's made my job more difficult, but those are the types of things you have to look at now."

If Hawaii proves too complicated for his clients who are eager to travel, Kanoho sees Los Cabos and, moving forward, Tahiti and French Polynesia as popular alternatives.

"My feeling is that when we get a vaccine, Hawaii will come back quickly," he said. "Until then, I think tourism will struggle to pick up there based on social distancing and fear of flying."

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