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Hawaii tourism industry could benefit from new federal rules

HONOLULU (AP) — New federal rules for international travelers are expected to help Hawaii’s crippled tourism industry.

The state’s international market has been nearly nonexistent since the pandemic largely shut down travel last year.

Last week, the White House loosened rules that previously prohibited some foreign travelers from coming to the U.S. Foreign visitors can now come with proof of vaccination and negative COVID-19 tests.

U.S. citizens and residents who are not vaccinated can also travel into the U.S. from other countries, but they must test twice — once before travel and again after arrival.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday that the changes could revive international travel back to the islands. It is down 97 percent compared to before the pandemic.

Currently, Hawaii only requires proof of vaccination or a single pre-flight test for mainland U.S. travelers. The state had also allowed travel with the same rules from some countries — including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Canada, Tahiti and the Philippines.

Some see the new rules as more restrictive for Japanese travelers, a major component of Hawaii’s tourism industry.

Dave Erdman, president of a Pacific marketing company, said Japanese media described the new rules differently than U.S. media outlets. The new policy adds a step for Japanese travelers by requiring vaccinations for entry.

“In the U.S./Hawaii, the media described the change as ‘loosening’ restrictions for travelers wanting to come to the U.S. But the Japanese media described the change as U.S. ‘tightening’ restrictions,’ “ Erdman said.

Japan and other key markets for Hawaii tourism have high vaccination rates and officials expect that trend to continue in coming months.