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Tourism gates have reopened

Ready or not,

here they are.

As Hawaii’s economic engine sputters back to life, we are once again welcoming visitors to our beaches, businesses and roadways. Maui’s October arrival numbers are a small fraction of pre-COVID-19 totals, but screening lines at Kahului Airport confirm that even during a global pandemic there is demand to vacation here.

Over the decades, Maui’s reputation as a world-class travel destination has helped it attract world-class travelers. These are not only people willing to pay extra for outstanding service and quality, but also guests who embrace the aloha spirit and island culture. Not every tourist gets it, but enough do to make it fun for the people who check them in to their rooms, serve them meals and take them on adventures.

By the old standards, a good guest was appreciative and polite. They understood Maui is a special place and all of us are lucky to be here. Many of those guests also thought nothing about eating out three times a day, going shopping and treating their party of six to multiple activities and rounds of golf while they were here. They provided the fuel that kept Hawaii running.

In the COVID era, new criteria have been added. Gold-standard visitors don’t spread coronavirus. They obey health protocols and do not put our kupuna or essential workers at risk.

Maui County is offering a free post-arrival COVID-19 test to visitors as part of its “Arrive Healthy, Stay Healthy, Return Home Healthy” program. The incentive of a free Kama’aina First Mahalo Card has not translated into a high percentage of takers.

Though they know it is the responsible thing to do, many guests must ask themselves, why take a test if it is not required? Their best possible outcome is to receive another negative test and a few discounts. On the opposite side, if it comes back positive, their special trip is derailed and they’re on the hook for quarantine.

At least the state and counties will have time to gauge the effectiveness of pre-travel testing and visitor compliance to health protocols. The tourism gates have been opened, but that has not yet translated into packed hotels and beaches. It is going to take time to ramp up as Hawaii and the rest of the world struggle to subdue the pandemic.

It will be interesting to see what sort of visitors we welcome during this ramping up phase. Will it be our old friends, the big spenders? Or will we host a higher percentage of bargain travelers who head straight to Costco after landing and make minimal contributions to the local economy?

Either way, we’ll greet them with aloha, provide positive examples and hope for the best.

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