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Encourage future visitors

The Aloha State’s strict enforcement of its mandatory 14-day quarantine for Mainland and international travelers has sent a message that’s being heard around the world.

National Geographic, Time, CNN and Reuters are just a few of the outlets to post stories about visitors being busted for breaking quarantine. Last week’s arrests of 21 visitors on the Big Island garnered a lot of recent attention, but Hawaii’s tough love approach has been on the media’s radar for months.

A CNN story by Josh Campbell that ran in early May compares the efforts of police, soldiers, hotel staff and health department officials to what might be expected in an “authoritarian dictatorship.” He writes that Hawaii’s approach features “some of the strictest measures in the country aimed at stopping the coronavirus.”

And guess what, those efforts have paid off. Oahu has logged some new COVID-19 cases recently, but overall Hawaii has flattened the curve in remarkable fashion. The only state with fewer cases is Montana. This has allowed us to begin opening up businesses such as beauty shops, bars and restaurants, and for interisland travelers to fly without the requirement of a 14-day quarantine. The measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 have come with a price, however, an economic toll that is painful now and may hurt for years.

What messages do this tough love and self sacrifice send to the world? First off, they say Hawaii puts a priority on the health and safety of its people. It also says we expect guests to follow the rules and abide by their word. Harsh as it sounds, those who lie and cheat are not welcome.

For travelers who wish to be pono, to do the right thing while protecting the health of themselves and others, the message conveyed is Hawaii is an excellent place to be. Who wouldn’t prefer an island chain that is relatively free of COVID-19 and has residents who take the disease seriously over destinations where cases are spiking and people seem bent on partying like it’s 1999?

On the flip side, now that the world has heard and read about our tough love, maybe it’s time to share some just plain old love. Many visitors to Hawaii make their travel plans far in advance, six months out, or a year. Potential guests need to know they will be welcome.

“We miss you,” sounds like a good start for a promotional campaign. “Hawaii can’t wait to share its aloha with you again soon,” or, “When it’s time, we’ll have the flower lei and mai tais ready.”

Like it or not, tourism is the lifeblood of our economy. Positive messaging now could make a huge difference when the pandemic finally runs its course. Travelers wondering where to spend their hard-earned money on long-overdue vacations will not only be searching for spots that are safe and forward thinking, but also ones that will greet them with open arms.

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