An announcement by the Biden administration that it will adopt new international travel policies as early as November will not immediately solve the global travel crisis in Hawaii, which is still down 97% from the pre-pandemic period.
However, some members of the Hawaii visitor industry say it’s a signal that the long-awaited recovery for international travelers is ready to begin.
The number of international trips to Hawaii has essentially been flat for the past 18 months. Eric Takahata, general manager of Hawaii Tourism Japan, said airlines and travel sellers serving Japan, Hawaii’s main source market for international tourists, are still losing more than $200 million a month. Businesses that serve their customers and other international visitors are also losing millions of dollars, he said.
The downturn has left visible scars in Waikiki, where about half of pre-pandemic visitors were international. The T-Galleria Hawaii by DFS is closed and a yellow warning tape prevents diners from entering the Waikiki Yokocho Japanese food court.
The Biden administration’s relaxation of international travel policies will allow foreigners to fly to the United States if they have proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test – changes replacing a hodgepodge of rules more restrictive which had irritated the allies.
US citizens and permanent residents who are not fully vaccinated will still be able to fly to the US, but they will see stricter testing and contact tracing protocols. They will need to be tested within 24 hours of boarding a flight and then undergo testing when they return.
All adult foreign nationals traveling to the United States will be required to be fully immunized before boarding a flight. This is in addition to the current requirement that travelers must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departing for the United States.
Once the vaccination requirement is in place, the White House plans to relax any country-specific restrictions on international travel that have prevented non-nationals who have been to the UK, European Union, China , India, Iran, Republic of Ireland, Brazil or South Africa within 14 days of entering the United States
Since the September 20 announcement, Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways have already reported huge jumps in flight bookings from the European Union to the United States.
Hawaii has not seen such dramatic change. With proof of a negative PCR test at a trusted testing and travel partner site, Safe Travels Hawaii had already allowed entry to travelers from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Canada, Tahiti and the Philippines.
“In the US/Hawaii, media described the change as a ‘loosening’ of restrictions for travelers wishing to come to the US. But Japanese media described the change as a ‘tightening’ of US restrictions,” a said Dave Erdman, Founder, CEO and President. of PacRim Marketing Group Inc. & PRTech, Vector Group Cos. — United States/Japan/Asia-Pacific.
Erdman said the Biden administration’s new policy actually adds another step by now requiring vaccinations for entry. However, the COVID-19 vaccination requirement likely wouldn’t be much of a deterrent to travelers from markets like Japan where vaccination rates are robust.
Danny Ojiri, vice president of market development for Outrigger Hospitality Group, said: “Hawaii’s major international source markets are on track to exceed US vaccination levels – so this will be opportune for safe travel.
“After a slow start at the start of the year, Japan’s vaccination effort has progressed at a steady pace; currently 55% are fully immunized and 67% are receiving their first shot,” he said. “The Japanese population is expected to be at least 75% vaccinated by November.”
The CDC says the United States will accept full vaccination of travelers with any COVID-19 vaccine approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, including those from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson used in the States -United. Other vaccines are also WHO-approved and widely used around the world, including by AstraZeneca and China’s Sinovac, with varying degrees of efficacy against COVID-19 and its more transmissible delta variant. The WHO is reviewing Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine but has not approved it.
Takahata said vaccinations in Japan are primarily based on Pfizer and Moderna, so entry to Hawaii shouldn’t be a problem as long as the state allows Safe Travels to accept people vaccinated in Japan.
The U.S. travel policy shift should also benefit Hawaii by encouraging Japan and other cautious countries to begin a reciprocal relaxation of their own travel entry policies. At this time, Japan still has travel to the United States listed under a Tier 3 “reconsider travel” advisory. Japan is also essentially closed to foreigners unless they have obtained a special visa, and returning residents are subject to testing and a 14-day quarantine requirement.
“Many countries are looking to us and what we are doing and taking it into account. Overall, the Japanese government is preparing to open Japan to inbound and outbound travellers,” Takahata said. “The United States is one of those countries that they are considering strongly.”
The Japanese government has acknowledged that its quarantine has been a big challenge and is considering reducing it to 10 days from 14, he said.
“From our side, a four-day reduction won’t be enough, but it’s a positive sign from a very conservative government,” Takahata said. Any changes would likely be timed for the next November election of a new Japanese prime minister, he said.
He expects to see the “initial spark of recovery” in Japan’s tourism to Hawaii by the traditionally busy New Year’s holiday travel period.
“We average about 1,300 to 1,500 arrivals per month. We will be at least triple when the spark starts,” Takahata said. “But we don’t expect a more sustained recovery until April.”
The Japanese government’s travel advisory for the United States ruled out group travel from Japan, which typically accounts for 60% of Japanese arrivals to Hawaii, he said.
Major tour operators such as JTB Corp. and HIS will likely wait for lower travel advisories from Japan, so the Hawaii visitor industry does not expect them to fully resume operations until the start of the first quarter of 2022.
“Hopefully by the summer of 2022 we’ll see a more steady return to some kind of normality,” Takahata said.
Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Alex Da Silva said that prior to the pandemic, Hawaiian had well-balanced international and domestic networks, and was “ready to return to the routes once restrictions ease and demand come back”.
“The announcement is welcome news and an important step toward reactivating travel to the United States — and Hawaii — from additional international destinations with a standard set of safety protocols,” Da Silva said. “This approach is in line with procedures already in place in the countries we serve, and we look forward to learning program details in the coming weeks.”
Da Silva said that with border restrictions limiting international flights from Hawaii, the carrier has expanded domestically to Orlando, Florida; Austin, TX; and Ontario, California, all of which are working well and helping to offset global travel restrictions.
“Meanwhile, we have slowly restarted international service, like Tahiti, as markets become operationally viable,” he said. “We remain optimistic and ready to restore or increase service in our international markets as vaccination rates improve in Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, and governments consider easing restrictions. travel restrictions.”
Da Silva said Hawaii remains an attractive destination that will naturally benefit from pent-up demand from international markets.
“However, as the borders begin to reopen, it will be important that we continue to market the state as a safe and welcoming place so that visitors can be confident that they can have an enjoyable experience while on our islands.” , did he declare.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.