Ige: More destination management needed

  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ranger Mequette Gallegos on Friday shows visitors different trails on the map of the park. Masks are not required at the park unless social distancing measures can not be achieved

Gov. David Ige on Monday said less money should be spent on tourism advertising and more should be focused on destination management.

Ige recently vetoed legislation that would take away the counties’ share of the Transient Accommodations Tax on hotel rooms and short-term rentals, as well as funding for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, but that veto was subsequently overridden by the state Legislature and became law.

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“We definitely agree that we need to be changing how we spend the dollars that we use, and it may be necessary to reduce the marketing and advertising dollars, but we’ve seen over the last several weeks that without someone guiding, without someone working with destinations and airports and hotels to really focus in on getting the visitors we want, then we do have just unfettered access to the state of Hawaii,” he said during a livestream Monday.

Ige said visitors aren’t spending as much as those who came previously. Many are staying in illegal, but cheaper, vacation rentals.

“And because of that, they’re in the communities, they’re creating traffic problems, they’re parking illegally. It really does create friction between visitors and residents that really is not sustainable.”

Ige said TAT dollars should be invested differently.

Less money should go into advertising, but more dollars should be spent on managing parks and hiking trails, focusing on “getting the visitors that we want,” and working to permit access into high-attraction destinations “in a way that can really reduce the stress of so many visitors.”

In response to a question from a livestream viewer, Ige said he cannot control or limit the number of flights into Hawaii’s airports.

“Once an aircraft lands, we can implement quarantine orders and things like that, but that’s the limit of my authority as governor.”

Ige has said previously that when the state reaches a fully vaccinated rate of 70%, all of Hawaii’s COVID-related emergency restrictions will be dropped, and the state’s Safe Travels Program will end.

Although vaccination rates in Hawaii have slowed, Ige echoed state health officials who last week projected that 70% of Hawaii’s population would be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by early September if 20,000 vaccine doses are administered each week.

“We believe the 70% is a good target for us. We’re making good progress,” he said. “We just have to remember that those who are not vaccinated are the most vulnerable, and those who are not eligible for vaccination are our children. Do we want to put our children at risk during this time? I’ve heard from many that they don’t want to. I do think it would be a mistake to drop that target.”

Ige said federal guidelines continue to strongly recommend that those who previously had the virus also get a vaccination.

“The overall herd immunity that really takes over and reduces the spread of the virus in our community is not a hard and fast threshold that we cross. … We want to encourage everyone to get vaccinated, even those who had COVID. If they do, that does help us in our community to get closer to herd immunity and really get to a safer place where (the virus) has a hard time to expand an explode like we’ve seen in so many other communities.”

The indoor mask mandate also will continue.

Ige said other states that have dropped all COVID restrictions are now contemplating re-instituting mask mandates due in part to the Delta variant of the virus and rising case counts.

“I do know that wearing masks, especially indoors, is one of the best ways to slow the spread of the virus,” he said. “I know that once we move forward, I don’t want to be in a position to have to step back, and so I’m committed to maintaining the mask mandate for now as we see continued circulation of the virus in our communities.”

Masks also will be required at schools when students return next month, despite recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said vaccinated students and teachers don’t need to wear masks inside school buildings.

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“What we are working on is a layered approach at schools,” Ige said. “… So as part of that layered protection, masks will continue to be a part of that. Wearing a mask indoors does protect and stop the spread of the virus, and we want to have that tool in the tool kit of the schools.”

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

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