The state may invite travelers to visit Hawaii once again within the next week, Gov. David Ige said Monday.
During a livestreamed interview, Ige said that, given the continuing decline in new COVID-19 cases statewide, he will reverse a statement he made in August urging travelers to not come to the state.
“We are working on the timing and the message right now,” Ige said. “It’s not an instant on-and-off kind of situation, it does take (the visitor industry) time to rehire people back, and we do want to make sure that when we invite people back that we have space and we have restaurants and other activities for them to do.”
Ige said he is working with the Hawaii Tourism Authority and other industry organizations to determine the best way to re-extend invitations for travelers.
Ige’s statements come only a few days after an announcement on Friday that would lower certain pandemic restrictions on Oahu. During the Friday announcement, Ige said similar announcements for neighbor islands — including the Big Island — would be forthcoming, which he reiterated on Monday.
“Neighbor islands have been a lot more aggressive about implementing restrictions and enforcing them,” Ige said. “So they are slightly ahead in the sense that certain kinds of activities (that were restricted on Oahu) were not shut down.”
As Ige was making his comments Friday, a meeting of the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness was covering similar ground. Carl Bonham, executive director of the University of Hawaii Research Organization, said visitor rates to the state could reach pre-pandemic levels this holiday season if the state can properly communicate that travelers are welcome again.
“I would like to see state-level pronouncements that we are open for business,” Bonham said. “And really now, so that people plan for Thanksgiving, they plan for Christmas.”
House Speaker Scott Saiki agreed, pointing out that Ige’s August statement discouraging travel to the state only specifically mentioned the months of September and October.
“Well, we’re halfway through October,” Bonham said. “He needs to speak out and explain what happens on Nov. 1. If I were the governor, I would say that we are going to be welcoming back vaccinated travelers. We don’t want unvaccinated travelers. We want vaccinated travelers to Hawaii…The governor needs to speak out clearly and quickly at this point.”
Tribune-Herald reporter John Burnett contributed to this story.
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