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  • October 23, 2020 4:11 PM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)

    County Readjusting Post COVID Test Program

    By Tiffany DeMasters

    October 22, 2020, 6:48 AM HST (Updated October 22, 2020, 11:34 AM)
    • T

    Mayor Harry Kim. PC: Team Ige

    Hawai‘i County is currently looking at offering its post-arrival COVID-19 rapid antigen test to trans-Pacific travelers four days after arrival on the island instead of the day they fly in.

    The post-test, currently required of all travelers before they leave the airport, has yielded one positive and nine false positives out of approximately 3,600 people who have landed on the Big Island since the state launched its pre-travel coronavirus testing program on Oct. 16.

    The state’s program requires individuals to provide a negative COVID test 72 hours before coming to the islands if they wish to avoid the mandatory 14-day quarantine. Mayor Harry Kim said the vast majority of people coming from the mainland were getting their test within 24 hours before arriving on the Big Island, noting it wasn’t a productive use of resources.

    “No one disagrees that more than one test is good,” the mayor stated. “What we’re doing now is looking at how we can continue the second test on Hawai‘i island and how we can go with the two-test system to make it more meaningful.”

    The county has been working with Premier Medical Group (PMG) to provide this post-test, requires travelers to submit to a PCR test if the antigen test comes back positive. Moving forward, Kim said, he hopes to set up three testing sites, Kona, Hilo and the Kohala Coast, where people can go to test on their fourth day after arriving on the island.

    The Mauna Lani Luxury Resort has already agreed to set up a coronavirus operations center, which would allow for testing and provide information on the disease. Dr. Kaohimanu Akiona with PMG is currently tasked with finding locations in Kona and Hilo.

    Kim thinks it would be nice to have a database of 8,000 to 10,000 already in the system before setting up these test sites, which he thinks they’ll have by the weekend. The mayor added that he hopes to get the sites in place by early next week.

    Until then, post-travel testing will continue at the airports. Even if the test is successfully moved to another site, Akiona said, PMG staff will still be at the airport to capture and register all the arrivals, noting that while they can’t require quarantine, they can still collect information, i.e. names, how they can be contacted, etc.

    Akiona is aware of the possibility that these trans-Pacific travelers won’t come for a post-test. However, she still thinks it’s a good idea.

    Akiona thinks that there are ways to make the four-day post-test work if there is an incentive or they have to quarantine to get the test.

     

     

     

     






  • October 13, 2020 7:23 PM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)

    Governor David Ige

     

    Today I signed a 14th supplementary emergency proclamation that extends the COVID-19 emergency period through Nov. 30 (https://bit.ly/2SPvCKH)

    The emergency proclamation leaves in place the 14-day mandatory quarantine requirement for out-of-state travelers. However, beginning Oct. 15, a pre-travel testing option will allow travelers an alternative to the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

    I want to remind all travelers that following safe practices – at home, while traveling and upon returning – is the only way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Wear a face mask, wash your hands frequently and watch your distance around other people, even if you’ve recently tested negative for COVID-19.

    Travelers, five years and older, who do not want to be subject to the state’s 14-day mandatory travelers quarantine must take an approved COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to departure from the final leg of travel. If results are not received prior to arrival, the traveler will be required to self-quarantine until a negative test result is reported to the state Dept. of Health.

    The state will accept test results from trusted testing and travel partners only. A complete list can be found at https://hawaiicovid19.com/travel-partners/

    Negative test results may be uploaded to the Safe Travels Digital Platform at https://travel.hawaii.gov/#/, and all travelers must also complete the state’s mandatory travel and health form on this digital platform.

    The proclamation allows counties to require a subsequent test after arrival into the state. Such a test would be paid for and administered by the county. People arriving in a county that requires a post-arrival test do not need to self-quarantine prior to obtaining the subsequent test. Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or who anyone who tests positive at any point in their stay must take steps to isolate or quarantine as directed by the Dept. of Health.

    The inter-island quarantine for travelers arriving in the counties of Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i, Maui and Kalawao (Kalaupapa) remains in place. However, the proclamation empowers the counties to adopt a negative test exception process for travelers subject to the inter-island travel quarantine.

    The proclamation also:

    • Extends the prohibition on evictions for non-payment of rent until Nov. 30.
    • Extends the expiration dates of expired/expiring state IDs and driver's licenses until Nov. 30.

    Four more trusted testing and travel partners:

    • Alaska Airlines
    • American Airlines
    • Bartell Drugs
    • Port of Oakland

    For more information on the State of Hawaiʻi’s pre-travel testing program, visit https://hawaiicovid19.com/.

    https://governor.hawaii.gov/.../office-of-the-governor.../

  • October 06, 2020 1:47 PM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)

    West Hawaii Today article seems to clarify the previous article released by the Star Tribune.

    Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim has not made a ‘definitive decision’ to opt out of the Oct. 15 pre-travel testing program.

    “A definitive decision has not been made yet — it’s forthcoming this week,” Maurice Messina, Kim’s executive assistant and chief of staff, said Tuesday morning.

    Messina said opting out of the pre-travel testing option means that travelers to the Big Island would have to quarantine for 14 days.

    “The reason the Mayor opted out was because the science shows that one test has too much risk. We have been told that the one test would catch only 40% of the potential positives, even if Lt Gov Green claims 80%. Even at 80%, the number of positives being introduced to our community is high. A second test after arrival significantly reduces that risk,” Messina said.

    By opting out, Messina said the mayor is seeking more time to put into place the second test or even a third COVID-19 test for arriving passengers.

    “To do this by October 15 may be a challenge, hence the only choice at the moment may be to opt out. The opt out period would be only the time needed to stand up the 2nd test,” he said. “A team addressing the logistics for the second test is actively working to have this in place as soon as possible. “

    The final decision will be made in coordination with the state and other counties.

    “The Mayor is still weighing options, whether to hold to the opt out or find an acceptable risk option to opt in. A definitive decision is forthcoming this week based on the information from the team and coordination with the State and other counties,” Messina said.
  • October 06, 2020 9:35 AM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)


    Keep up to date with news about travel, business, local elections, state policies, and more

    Report: Big Island opts out of pre-travel testing program

    BIVRA Members,

    The Honolulu Star Advertiser is reporting that the Hawaii County  Mayor Harry Kim has decided to opt-out of the pre-travel testing program set to start October 15th.

    Hawaii County Mayor Kim is quoted saying "All of us want to open up our economy, (but) … I made a decision that the risk factor in regards to doing this at this time is not an acceptable risk as far as endangering Hawaii’s people,” Kim said, adding that he is trying to come up with a plan to address issues involving reopening tourism."

    Find the article here: https://www.staradvertiser.com/2020/10/06/hawaii-news/big-island-opts-out-of-pre-travel-testing-program/

    It is unconscionable for Mayor Kim to make this decision 10 days before the pre-travel testing program is to begin.  Vacation rentals, hotels, and resorts have already begun accepting reservations for October and November in anticipation of the pre-travel testing program. 

    The Big Island has effectively been shut down since March.  The pre-travel testing program is a reasonable approach that balances safety with the need to re-open and welcome visitors again.  Further delay will needlessly deepen the economic devastation that has been inflicted on Big Island families and businesses.

    BIVRA is meeting with legal counsel later this afternoon to discuss potential options to fight this wrong-headed decision.  

    Stay Tuned.

    Mahalo,
    Big Island Vacation Rental Association

  • September 24, 2020 9:29 AM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)

    United Airlines announced Thursday that it is launching a pilot program to make COVID-19 tests available for its customers heading to Hawaii. 

    Starting Oct. 15, United passengers flying from San Francisco International Airport will be able to take a rapid coronavirus test at the airport, or purchase a mail-in test ahead of their trip. 

    Hawaii's governor announced last week that starting Oct. 15, travelers arriving from out of state may bypass a 14-day quarantine requirement if they test negative for COVID-19. 

    United said it worked with Hawaii officials to ensure that the airline's pilot program would align with the state's guidelines. United said it's the first U.S. airline to make COVID-19 tests available to its customers. 

    “Our new COVID testing program is another way we are helping customers meet their destinations’ entry requirements, safely and conveniently,” said Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer at United. Enqvist added that they're looking to expand customer COVID-19 testing to other destinations and U.S. airports later this year.


    The COVID-19 tests are available to passengers flying from San Francisco to Hawaii, but United says it plans to expand to other destinations and airports this year.

  • September 16, 2020 4:52 PM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)

    Hawai‘i’s pre-travel COVID-19 testing program will launch on Oct. 15, Gov. David Ige announced in a press conference this afternoon. Tourism has all but halted across the state since late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The hope for this program is it will protect public health and revive the economy.

    “We’re committed to restoring and revitalizing the economy,” Ige said.

    Travelers will be exempt from the state’s 14-day quarantine if they return a negative result after submitting to a test 72 hours prior to arrival in Hawai‘i.


    Lt. Gov. Josh Green was present at the press conference through Zoom, as he is currently positive for COVID-19. He explained the state has worked for months on the pre-travel testing program.

    “It’s going to be another tool as a layer for safety for our residents and visitors,” Green said.

    Green said all arriving passengers, adults and children, will be required to take a test prior to their arrival in Hawai‘i. If the results are not available by the time they get to the state, Green said, those travelers will be required to quarantine until results are returned.


    The state is partnering with CVS and Kaiser Permanente to provide testing for mainland travelers. Green said visitors will be responsible for the cost of the test, which will be approximately $139.

    Ige added that part of the agreement with those partners is they will conduct a test and commit to returning a result in three days. The governor assured the state and its partners are working on establishing a procedure to verify the validity of a test.

    “As the world gets closer to a vaccine, we’re developing a strategy for delivering a vaccine to everyone in the community,” Green said. “It will not be mandatory.”

    The conversation on when to lift the 14-day inter-island quarantine is ongoing with a task force from each county.

  • September 10, 2020 9:54 AM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)

    Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Wednesday that he does not see any reason the state could not reopen to trans-Pacific travelers on Oct. 1.

    “If we can get the numbers down to 70 (daily positive cases) consistently, that is something we can maintain in our hospitals, there is no reason we couldn’t open up to tourism and open our schools,” said Green, a Big Island physician, during a Honolulu Star-Advertiser Facebook livestream.

    The state Department of Health announced 100 new positive cases Wednesday, with 10 new cases on Hawaii Island and 90 on Oahu. Also reported Wednesday were three new coronavirus-related deaths on Oahu, bringing the death toll statewide to 91.

    Overall case numbers as of Wednesday were City and County of Honolulu, 9,146; Maui County, 360; Hawaii County, 533; and Kauai County, 58.

    According to Green, an average of 0.58% of people have tested positive during surge testing on Oahu, which is about 5-6 people per 1,000 tests.

    “The numbers are much better, but it is certainly a challenge,” Green said. “We reported 66 positive cases yesterday, although there was limited testing over the holiday weekend, and 100 cases today.”

    Green reported that active cases are tipping downward from 6,874 to 3,912, and spoke about hospital numbers as well.

    “We are now at 240 individuals in the hospital, down from a peak of about 315 or so. … We’ve been steadily declining and that’s usually a reflection of decrease in the overall disease burden in the state,” Green said.

    These are important things because Hawaii needs to reopen retail, restaurants and tourism, the lieutenant governor said, and “we’re on the precipice of that.”

    Green said a soft opening for tourism makes sense with two proposals for testing.

    Green is proposing a PCR test, which detects the virus’ genetic material, be required within three days of travel. If the tester receives a negative result, then they can travel from the mainland to Hawaii.

    His second proposal is to require an antigen test, which detects specific proteins on the surface of the virus, that can be taken on the mainland within three days of travel and again in Hawaii. The antigen tests are about $22 and provide a rapid result within 15 minutes.

    “This is what I believe will be the right plan,” Green said. “ … Given the case rates and the positivity rates, it’s pretty good.”

    The state should be able to reopen tourism in three weeks, followed by schools two weeks later.

    “As long as we’re giving enough access to tracing and testing for everybody, we can keep an eye on it,” Green said.

    “… We are watching every case by the minute … and it’s something that becomes more sophisticated every day,” he added. “Sooner or later we’re going to have to bite the bullet.”

    Green is also advocating for public schools to open for face-to-face learning on Oct. 13.

    Green said he will be proposing a plan that will allow eight locations for testing in each county. Children in school, teachers, first responders and other front-line workers can get same day tests.

    “This testing could provide a ton of extra support and it’s a doable thing,” Green said. “It’s better than waiting too long, because I’m not sure a vaccination will come in the fall or winter. If parents or teachers think it’s too much risk, then I understand that.”

    When asked if Hawaii’s infrastructure is ready for testing for tourism and schools, Green thinks the state will be ready.

    “We already have relationships in place with CVS, Kaiser and Walgreens is coming on, and when we finalize the decision to allow for rapid antigen testing anywhere as long as we do a follow-up, it opens up testing everywhere,” Green said. “It opens the scope and makes everything easier, which is what we need to do. We need to make plans accessible and not burdensome.”

    “I don’t think travelers coming in is going to be a big worry,” Green added. “I think it’s going to be continued community spread if we don’t do a good job testing people.”

    Last week, Gov. David Ige announced that Bruce Anderson, director of the state Department of Health, will be retiring Sept. 15. Dr. Libby Char will serve as interim director effective Sept. 16.

    The DOH revealed last Thursday that State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park will be taking a paid leave of absence as well. Deputy Director Danette Wong Tomiyasu, who is working with Dr. Emily Roberson, has been put in charge of all disease investigation and immunization activities.

    With the changing leadership at the DOH, Green is enthusiastic about the potential changes in contact tracing.

    “Going forward, Dr. Libby Char, who is a physician, is fantastic,” Green said. “She’s very subdued, extremely smart and she will provide good health leadership, so that’s a big plus.”

    Park’s departure clears the way for Roberson and her team. They have about 200 contact tracers and plan to bring on 125 new tracers in the next two to three weeks.

    The ultimate goal, according to Green, is for the case numbers to decrease and the amount of contact tracers to increase.

    “That is how you knock this virus out,” he said.

    Green said the stay-at-home order on Oahu, surge testing in all counties and the response to the spike in the virus has helped bring down active cases.

  • August 19, 2020 10:36 AM | Holly Cunningham (Administrator)

    By JOHN BURNETT and MICHAEL BRESTOVANSKY Hawaii Tribune-Herald | Wednesday, August 19, 2020, 12:05 a.m.


    Gov. David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said in a joint media conference Tuesday that new gathering-size restrictions imposed in response to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases apply only to Oahu.

    “I do want to make it clear that the neighbor islands continue in the ‘Act with Care’ phase of their reopening plans,” Ige said. “They have not seen the increased counts that we have seen here on Oahu.”

    In addition, Ige said a plan to allow travelers who arrive in the state with a negative COVID-19 test result issued within 72-hours of departure has been pushed back from Sept. 1 “until Oct. 1 at the earliest.”

    “We will continue to monitor the conditions here in Hawaii, as well as key markets on the mainland, to determine the appropriate start date of for the pre-travel testing program. We will be making that announcement in time so that the hospitality industry would have the time they need to staff up,” he said.

    Ige also said a moratorium on evictions of tenants who fail to pay rent will continue at least through September.

    Hawaii’s daily case count continues to be in the triple digits. Tuesday’s case count of 134 contains 124 new Oahu cases, seven in Maui County and three on Hawaii Island. Hawaii County Civil Defense reported 20 still-active cases and one hospitalization.

    Despite the low Big Island numbers, Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno expressed concern in his morning message, saying the island “has seen daily increases of positive cases over the past two weeks.”

    “Most of these recent cases are not travel-related, which means the virus is being transmitted within the community,” Magno said.

  • August 06, 2020 5:36 PM | Cindy Wild (Administrator)

    UPDATE: Thursday, Aug. 6, 5 p.m.

    Gov. David Ige announced the return of Hawai‘i’s interisland travel quarantine on Thursday, but a change has been made so that the quarantine will only be reinstated IN PART.

    Following his initial announcement and after further discussions with Attorney General Clare Connors, the governor has decided that he will approve the interisland travel quarantine only for travelers arriving on the counties of Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i, Maui, and Kalawao. The quarantine requirement applies to any person traveling to these islands. This means travel from the Big Island to Maui, for instance, would still require the quarantine, as would travel from O‘ahu to any island. However, people traveling from outer islands to O‘ahu would not face quarantine on arrival. However, if they traveled back to a neighbor island before the quarantine is lifted, they would be forced to quarantine there.

    The period of self-quarantine will begin immediately upon arrival and last 14 days or the duration of the person’s stay on the island, whichever is shorter. 

    SPONSORED VIDEO

    The Attorney General’s Office is finalizing an 11th emergency proclamation that Ige will sign before Tuesday, Aug. 11, when the quarantine will go into effect. Also after the news conference, the governor clarified that the interisland travel quarantine will remain in effect until at least Aug. 31 unless it is terminated or extended by a separate proclamation.

    The previous inter-island travel quarantine affecting all inter-island travelers took effect on Apr. 1 and was lifted on June 16.

    Main Story

    Hawai‘i took two big steps back in its battle with coronavirus on Thursday, as Gov. David Ige announced the reinstatement of the mandatory 14-day interisland quarantine along with a return to restrictions for the island of O‘ahu where the virus has become endemic.

    A total of 53 cases of the virus were reported Thursday, but Hawai‘i Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson said officials expect at least 200 cases when a glitch in the Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system is worked out and reporting delays are erased. Anderson added that now, cases are spreading exponentially throughout the state.

    “The numbers keep growing, and we are concerned it will get worse before it gets better,” the governor said. “As we reopened our community, people let their guards down. It’s been very disappointing.”

    Interisland quarantine restrictions on travel will return Tuesday, Aug. 11.

    He added the quarantine is being reinitiated to stop what would otherwise be the likely spread of the virus in large numbers to neighbor islands, which have been much more successful than O‘ahu at limiting the reach of COVID-19. As of Thursday, the Big Island had reported 122 cases since testing began in late February. Honolulu County reported 51 more cases than Hawai‘i County’s pandemic total on Wednesday alone.

    “Interisland travel was an important way for families to keep in touch,” Ige said. “I wish this was not necessary, but the health and safety of our community is our top priority.”

    People traveling from neighbor islands to O‘ahu will be exempt from quarantine, including those traveling for medical purposes.

    Those planning interisland trips for any reason may look for updates on airport websites.

    The governor did not directly answer questions about what the reinstatement means for his pre-arrival testing program. That initiative is meant to bring trans-Pacific travelers back to the islands with an opportunity to earn quarantine exemption. Ige said an announcement will be coming within the next week as to the program’s status, which is currently set to go into effect on Sept. 1.

    Back to the Beginning

    Honolulu County will return to several prohibitive restrictions that characterized the statewide lockdown ordered by Gov. Ige in late March, though people will not be confined to their homes and some businesses will be allowed to remain open.

    For now, these restrictions remain isolated to O‘ahu, though worsening case counts on neighbor islands could bring about renewed restrictions of their own.

    Gov. David Ige. Courtesy photo.

    The primary initiative on O‘ahu is to limit large gatherings, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said, with a focus on stricter enforcement. He announced in a press conference Thursday an order that he called Act With Care, Do Not Gather.

    O‘ahu’s new restrictions will include the closure of 300 city and county parks, along with all state parks, and the beaches that front them. All campgrounds, botanical gardens, public and private pools, tennis clubs, and team sports have been closed or suspended. The restrictions go into effect on Friday, Aug. 7, and will extend through Sept. 5.

    People may still traverse the parks and beaches to get to the water and participate in activities like surfing, swimming, fishing, paddling, and diving, but activities on land will be prohibited. Restroom services will remain open, but no loitering will be allowed.

    Bars were already put under a three-week closure in Honolulu County starting Friday, July 31. Restaurants will be allowed to remain open, though cooks will be mandated to wear face coverings. Fitness centers will remain open but classes within them won’t be allowed. Movie theaters, spiritual services, and museums can remain open, but arcades, bowling alleys, and mini-golf courses will be forced to close.

    Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said 160 extra police officers will be deployed under strategic enforcement initiatives and that warnings will no longer be the primary mode of enforcement. Instead, officers will write more citations and effect more arrests.

    An enforcement hotline in Honolulu County will open starting Sunday morning at 10 a.m. The intent is to garner community support in reporting violations to ultimately drive dangerous behavior down. The hotline number is 808-723-3900 and the relevant email address is hpdcovidenforce@honolulu.gov.

    While COVID-19 typically spreads more easily indoors, Caldwell said the focus is on large outdoor gatherings of dozens or even hundreds of people who have continued to ignore social distancing and face-covering mandates for weeks, leading to the surge in cases. It’s those events, he said, that DOH has linked with the majority of uncontrolled community spread on O‘ahu.

    As to what this means for public schools and universities across the island and the state, Gov. Ige was non-commital Thursday. He said he will sit down with the state Department of Education leadership, as well as University leadership, to determine the best way forward and hammer out the details to any change in plans. Public schools were originally scheduled to reopen Aug. 4, a date that was pushed back to Aug. 17 to allow for more training and preparation before a return to in-person instruction.

    Numbers Behind the Moves

    Anderson said two different predictive models indicate that if cases continue to rise as they have in recent days and weeks, intensive care unit (ICU) capacity on O‘ahu will be exhausted by either Aug. 19 or Aug. 21, respectively.

    PC: Google Images

    Currently, 117 people are hospitalized statewide as a result of COVID-19 infection. Of those, 115 are on O‘ahu. A total of 53% of the state’s ICU beds are filled, which will inevitably increase, Anderson said. Approximately 10% of Hawai’i cases of the virus result in hospitalization. Neighbor island projections are better than on O‘ahu, but hospital capacity is also far more fragile.

    Anderson said the consistency of coronavirus case reporting in the triple-digits each day for the last week has brought the state to the precipice of a public health crisis.

    “It’s much more serious than we projected,” Anderson said. “There will be more deaths and hospitalizations in the weeks to come.”

  • August 06, 2020 5:23 PM | Cindy Wild (Administrator)

    By Stephanie Salmons Hawaii Tribune-Herald | Tuesday, August 4, 2020, 12:05 a.m.

    Share this story

    • Visitors see how Halemaumau crater expanded during the 2018 reopening of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (Hawaii Tribune-Herald/File Photos)

    • Tribune-Herald file photo Tourists take a selfie in front of Rainbow Falls in 2019 in Hilo.


    Ads by Kiosked

    Hawaii County last week released its five-year strategic tourism plan, a guiding document to help ensure responsible tourism that respects the Big Island’s communities and natural and cultural resources.

    The county gathered input from more than 400 representatives from the visitor industry, community, and public and private sectors while developing the plan, which “carries forward the idea that successful tourism starts with a high quality of life for residents … and sets it as the vision for the future of Hawaii Island.”

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    The plan itself has four goals — responsible tourism, pono-based visitor communication, place-based education for residents and infrastructure — and each goal has a number of objectives and outlines actions to achieve those.

    For instance, for responsible tourism, the plan calls for the development of an inventory of cultural practices and natural resource areas, identifying those that are appropriate for visitors to access and the creation of plans to sustain those resources.

    It also calls for communities to retain their sense of place by integrating Native Hawaiian practitioners as leaders within the visitor industry; encouraging visitors and incentivizing companies to buy local goods and services by providing technical support for local businesses that want to promote or further develop their products and services in the visitor industry; and identifying and reducing barriers that prevent visitor industry companies from buying Hawaii Island products.

    The plan also proposes to develop ways for visitors to “authentically engage” and give back to the Big Island, while being accountable for their actions.

    To address place-based education for residents, the county should work to further develop training programs to share Hawaiian culture and history with those working within the visitor industry, according to the plan.

    Additionally, the plan recommends the development of a program that recognizes and rewards employees and volunteers within the visitor industry for acquiring greater knowledge of Hawaiian culture, history and pono practices.

    And among other actions, the plan also calls for the county to identify solutions for the lack of affordable workforce housing and to identify areas to address resident and visitor safety.

    Building on a previous plan, Hawaii County began its update more than a year ago, prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which “dramatically changed the economy, especially the visitor industry.”

    Riley Saito, deputy director of the county Research and Development Department, said that before COVID-19, which has largely halted the influx of travelers to the state and Big Island, tourism was growing but put a lot of strain on the island’s natural resources.

    Saito said the new plan addresses pre-COVID concerns that the county needed to somehow change its relationship with tourists and how they interact with the community, the land and natural resources.

    Declining visitors and stay-at-home orders issued in the early days of the pandemic provided a glimpse of how resources can be revitalized with the absence of people.

    “… We do understand tourism is the economic engine for this island, and if we could, (we would) welcome the tourists and change their experience to be one of a higher interaction with the host culture and host people,” Saito said.

    The plan states that before COVID-19, the number of residents who completely agreed that tourism “brought more benefits than problems” dropped by 24% between 2010 and 2019, and there was a 5% increase in the number of residents who felt the island was being run for tourists at the expense of local people.

    In Hawaii County, the number of visitors in March 2020 declined 53% compared to March 2019, according to data provided in the plan. In April, the county recorded just 705 arrivals.

    According to the plan, COVID-19 disrupted positive forecasts for both visitor arrivals and expenditures, and current studies forecast a “dramatic decrease” in visitor arrivals next year, which “paints an uncertain picture of the industry’s future.”

    An estimated 3.4 million arrivals are expected across the state this year, but tourism isn’t expected to return to levels experienced in 2019 until 2025, and that’s only if several factors prove true.

    “This period presents many uncertainties around how the visitor industry will be redeveloped, however, it may also alleviate some of the negative sentiments from residents and create an opportunity to revisit how some experiences are delivered to visitors,” the plan states.

    According to the plan, the current decline in visitors allows for a more “responsible approach” to tourism, centering around place and residents.

    Saito said a slow return of tourism means the county will be able to better implement many elements of the strategic plan.

    “When you have a plan, if you’re doing it with the island at 80% occupancy, (it can) be very difficult to implement,” he said. “As tourism ramps up, it’s a slow growth. We can actually transform and pivot the plan as needed as the growth occurs.”

    Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, said the plan is “really predominantly on the side of managing tourism rather than marketing tourism.”

    According to Birch, the visitors bureau is looking at using the strategic plan to manage high levels of visitors, but post-COVID-19, the plan can be used to “bring back visitation properly and potentially create new jobs and new opportunities associated with visitation to the island.”

    According to Saito, the county already has started outreach to different community groups.

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    For more information or to see the full plan, visit bit.ly/HawaiiCoTourism.

    Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.


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