Travel to Hawaii is about to get a whole lot easier

A surfer on Oahu's North Shore. The island is currently in Tier 4 of a five-tier reopening plan.
A surfer on Oahu's North Shore. The island is currently in Tier 4 of a five-tier reopening plan. Photo Credit: Erik Nuenighoff/
Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

The roadmap for Hawaii's full reopening has been laid out, and if the current pace of progress holds, visitors could be traveling to the Aloha State restriction-free before summer's end.

In recent weeks, regulations on intrastate travel have been lifted, two counties eliminated additional testing measures, restrictions on public gatherings and business activities eased, and Gov. David Ige announced benchmarks for lifting all Covid-19 testing requirements for entry.

The end is in sight

As of June 13, the vaccination rate in the state was at 55%. Once the state's vaccination rate reaches 60%, Ige has said that out-of-state arrivals who have been fully vaccinated will no longer need to get a Covid-19 test prior to departure for the Islands.

To bypass testing, travelers headed to Hawaii will have to upload their vaccination card to the state's Safe Travels site.

More significantly, when the state's vaccination rate hits 70%, the Safe Travels program will end and there will be no more testing or vaccination requirements for travelers. The removal of all restrictions, including testing requirements and quarantines, will end additional costs for travelers and eliminate the long lines for verifying Safe Travels documents that some visitors have found when arriving at Hawaii airports.

"The easing of travel restrictions is a direct result of our robust vaccination rate, and a community that sacrificed and did what it had to do over the past year and a half to stop the spread of Covid-19. We need to push hard now so we can get to the point where Safe Travels is no longer needed to keep the people of Hawaii safe," Ige said in a statement earlier this month announcing the benchmarks.

The state is rolling out a series of initiatives -- including community outreach, incentives from restaurants, retailers and airlines -- and expanding vaccine clinic hours and locations to boost rates among those who have yet to get the shot.

Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism and Lodging Association, said tourism to the Islands continues to recover, and an easing of restrictions would help maintain momentum as more destinations open to visitors and drop testing or quarantine requirements. Arrival numbers have been rising through the first four months of 2021, from just 171,976 in January to 484,071 in April, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

"Vaccination exemptions should happen soon, and certainly the end of the restrictions will be a big boost for getting people back to work and the industry back up and running fully," he said. "Each little bit helps, but fully reopening, getting rid of the extra cost of testing and hurdles of documentation and entry, will be huge for the industry."

Island-hopping gets simpler

While the end of testing and quarantine altogether will have to wait, some changes have already made travel to and within the Islands easier.

At various times since Hawaii launched its Safe Travels program for screening arriving travelers on Oct. 15, individual counties have either opted out of the program altogether, meaning every traveler was required to quarantine, or imposed additional testing requirements on top of the state-mandated pre-arrival test within 72 hours of departure.

Now, after the Island of Hawaii removed its policy of a second test upon arrival on June 1, and Maui followed suit three days later, none of the counties are requiring extra testing.

Kauai does still have an incentive program for those who voluntarily submit to a second test three days or more after their arrival. Garden Isle visitors who take a post-travel test receive a Kokua Kauai Card that can be used for discounts at local shops, restaurants, and activities.

Meanwhile, as of June 15 all restrictions on interisland travel have been lifted.

"People will be able to fly intercounty without restrictions  there will be no testing, no quarantine requirements for intercounty travel," Ige said.

Oahu moves into Tier 4

Oahu is by far the most populous island in Hawaii, with more people than all the other islands combined, and throughout the pandemic has logged the greatest number of Covid-19 cases.

On June 11, mayor Rick Blangiardi of Honolulu County, which encompasses all of Oahu, announced the island is moving into Tier 4 of its reopening plan.

The new set of regulations allow for social gatherings of up to 200 people at outdoor weddings and 25 people at outdoor venues. It also permits up to 10 people to gather inside. It brings Oahu close to the point where it can end all pandemic restrictions.

"We continue to make solid progress as a community in our fight against Covid," Blangiardi said in a statement. "At this point vaccinations are key to easing restrictions and hopefully ending the tier system altogether."

Tier 4 was triggered by a 50% or greater vaccination rate, a seven-day daily average of fewer than 20 cases and a rate of positive tests of less than 1%. Tier 5, which loosens restrictions even further, will kick in when the vaccination rate hits 60% or greater. When 70% or more of island residents are vaccinated, all restrictions will cease.

The new rules are the first instance of the county requiring people to show proof of testing or vaccination to participate in certain activities.

In addition to the aforementioned gathering limits, Tier 4 guidelines include 33% capacity at indoor sporting venues; no capacity limits on commercial recreational boating; and 50% capacity at social establishments such as clubs, bars and karaoke venues if all attendees are tested or show proof of full vaccination. Tier 4 also allows for more spectators at concerts, meetings, sporting events, and conventions.


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