Too soon to measure impact of outbreak on Hawaii tourism

  • Chris Tatum

State tourism officials said earlier this week that it’s too early to determine the impact the ongoing coronavirus outbreak will have on Hawaii’s tourism industry.

Chris Tatum, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, spoke about the virus at a news conference held Wednesday with Gov. David Ige, Hawaii health officials and other state leaders. He said the group’s focus is communication.

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“Obviously, the visitor industry is a big part of our economy, and it’s important that we take care of our visitors,” he said. “ … We’re working with our tourism partners to make sure that everyone throughout the world that we deal with knows what’s going on in Hawaii, they understand the information that’s being provided to us by our other state agencies — the Department of Health, CDC (and) the Department of Transportation — making sure that we’re informing our visitors what’s going on. And that’s really key for us.”

The outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus has been caused by a previously unidentified coronavirus first detected in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, on Dec. 31. The U.S. on Friday put travel restrictions on people traveling from China.

Tatum said less than 1% of visitors to Hawaii came from China last year.

According to recent data from HTA, 10,424,995 visitors came to the state in 2019, and 93,703 of those came from China.

Hawaii Island had 35,145 visitors from the country in 2019.

When asked Wednesday how the outbreak would impact tourism numbers, Tatum said it’s too soon to tell.

“The China market actually had dropped pretty significantly last year before anything occurred,” he said. “Right now, our numbers are not showing a major decrease, but we monitor them and still continue to give out the information every month on what the visitor counts are.”

Staff members at Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden in Papaikou aren’t currently concerned about potential impacts from the outbreak.

“We’ve actually had an uptick in visitors, so we haven’t seen any effect from it,” Director of Marketing Cynthia Bates said Thursday.

Bates said the garden doesn’t track where visitors come from, but said most of the garden’s Asian visitors come from Japan.

Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, directed questions about the subject to HTA.

An HTA spokeswoman directed the Tribune-Herald to a video of the news conference.

The World Health Organization on Thursday declared the outbreak a global health emergency.

According to the Associated Press, the virus has infected almost 10,000 people globally in just two months. As of Friday, the death toll stood at more than 200, all in China. Six cases have been confirmed in the United States.

On Friday, the United States declared a public health emergency and President Donald Trump signed an order that will temporarily bar foreign nationals, other than immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who have traveled in China within the past two weeks, the AP reported. Beginning Sunday, the U.S. will also begin funneling all flights to the U.S. from China to seven major airports where passengers can be screened for illnesses, including the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu.

On Monday, State Rep. John Mizuno, chair of the House Health Committee, will hold an informational briefing on the outbreak and measures being taken by the state.

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The briefing, which is set for 1 p.m. Monday, can be watched live online at olelo.org, or on the House webcast page at bit.ly/HouseWebcast.

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

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