Hawaii welcomes back tourists, but they still need to pass COVID-19 tests – Orange County Register

The welcoming “aloha spirit,” dampened by more than a year of restrained travel between Hawaii and the mainland, is being happily lifted by a combination of positive events and a promising summer.

The June-August tourist season can’t come soon enough for a state so dependent on vacationing families, honeymooning newlyweds, seniors enjoying their golden years and everyone in between. Tourists represent nearly a quarter of Hawaii’s economy, and when folks aren’t coming because of a pandemic, you get statewide unemployment peaking at 21.9 percent and a lot of suddenly vacant storefronts.

The good news is that a low COVID-19 test positivity rate and steady uptick of COVID-19 vaccinations among residents and would-be visitors from the continental U.S. have contributed to Hawaii relaxing travel restrictions for fellow Americans.

Hawaii welcomes back tourists, but they still need to pass COVID-19 tests – Orange County Register
Palm trees and a sandy beach provide a relaxing summertime setting at Mauna Kea Beach on the Big Island. (Photo by David Dickstein)

The result is a comeback in the making; tourism was reportedly at 65 percent of normal levels in late April. Now with the top vacation season just around the corner, Hawaii’s travel industry is in revival mode, looking forward to a summer as sweet as sugarcane.

“Combined with pent-up demand, access to air travel, stimulus checks that are inducing people to contemplate a visit, and the CDC issuing travel advisories suggesting that U.S. citizens stay away from 80 percent of the world — all that, alone, suggests that Hawaii will enjoy a record summer,” said John De Fries, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Hawaiian-style floor markers are common where people line up. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Also in Hawaii’s favor is a new report by Tripadvisor indicating that beach destinations are where 67 percent of U.S. travelers planning a trip from June through August will visit. While findings imply that Cancun, Myrtle Beach, S.C. and three Florida destinations will draw more Americans than Hawaii, possibly due to more Easterners being users of the online service, the tropical state’s proximity to heavily populated California is one reason it can expect a wave of visitors proportional to the huge surfing kind found on Oahu’s North Shore.

“California is our biggest single market, and a lot has to do with our shared love for sun and surf,” De Fries said. “Many of our friends on the other side of the Pacific come here for that, and with the Bahamas and many parts of the Caribbean currently at the most severe level on the CDC’s advisory map, Hawaii makes for a sensible and safe vacation destination,” De Fries said.

Akaka Falls is a popular Big Island attraction. (Photo by David Dickstein)

The airline industry is certainly doing its share to get more of us to Hawaii. On May 6, United Airlines began daily non-stop service between John Wayne Airport and Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International, the first time Orange County has seen that route in almost a decade. On May 24, Hawaiian Airlines is scheduled to expand nonstop service between Ontario International and Honolulu from five days a week to daily.

Hawaiian also started daily nonstops between Long Beach Airport and Maui’s Kahului Airport in March, adding to daily nonstop runs to Honolulu that came out of pandemic hibernation in December. The region’s other major airports also offer nonstop flights to the Islands.

Before anyone dances the hula over broader air travel options, make note that a trip to paradise still means having a swab up your nose or spitting in a tube on Zoom. Since last December, visitors must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure in order to avoid a 10-day quarantine. Since early May, Maui is requiring a second test upon arrival at Kahului Airport for trans-Pacific travelers. The SafeTravels Hawaii program also has strict rules as to which tests are accepted and from which providers.

Visitors to Hawaii are given constant reminders of vacation safely. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Helping relieve folks of a possible Diamond Head-sized headache is small doses of tourist-friendly administrative aid. In April, Kauai rejoined the SafeTravels program after having opted out for four months, thus ending the requirement that visitors must hole up at an approved “resort bubble” for three days before being set free. And Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green has hinted that around the July 4 holiday regulations could ease up for vaccinated visitors from the continental U.S.

Traveler assistance also is available to guests of hotels partnering with V2 Safe Solutions, a Hawaii-based beginning-to-end pandemic management agency. Booking a stay at Oahu’s Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach, for example, allows guests to use the pre-travel and onsite services of a coronavirus concierge, if you will. The $150 fee includes hand-holding throughout the SafeTravels steps, the test itself and a customized timeline promised to eliminate any chance of being detained at the airport or under quarantine due to not having the proper documentation with the right timestamps.

With or without professional assistance, it’s best to check for program updates early and often.

Being early is also good advice for those wanting a rental car. Hawaii has a shortage of vehicles to rent due to many cars having been shipped to the U.S. mainland when tourism disappeared. With visitors now returning to the islands, the strong demand has resulted in rates so high that in some cases tourists are renting U-Haul vans instead.

Tasty waves are a big draw during summertime and any time in Hawaii. (Photo by David Dickstein)

The payoff of these potential problems and pandemic-prompted procedures is paradise, of course. Summertime visitors will be particularly rewarded with plenty of properties that are new or recently improved since the pandemic put Hawaii’s tourism business on hold. In order of island visitorship, here’s a nene’s eye view of hot Hawaiian highlights:


With visitor numbers down due to the pandemic, several notable hotels have taken advantage of the low crowds to undertake major renovation projects in time for summer, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Turtle Bay Resort plans to welcome its first guests in eight months on July 1. During the closure, the North Shore’s largest and most luxurious property got a spruced-up lobby and new features that include ocean bungalows, a terraced pool deck and fresh dining concepts.

The venerable Outrigger Reef welcomed guests back in late April in time to enjoy the first phase of an $80 million makeover that includes new upscale residential-style rooms and suites and, come July, an expanded Kani Ka Pila Grille and stage that features nightly live Hawaiian music. Another draw of the Outrigger is it’s one of only seven resorts sitting upon the sands of popular Waikiki Beach.

The ultra-exclusive Espacio Hotel on Oahu reopens on June 1 after having to close only six months into operation. (Courtesy of Aqua-Aston Hospitality)

Espacio The Jewel of Waikiki isn’t one of the other six — guests of Honolulu’s most exclusive hideaway must walk across the street to get to the beach, poor dears. But come June 1, when the nine-suite, ultra-posh hotel reopens after having to shut down due to COVID-19 only six months into operation, sunning on the shore of Waikiki might take second to the suite life.

Each unit takes up an entire floor, and within those 2,250 exclusive square feet are two or three bedrooms, three-and-a-half bathrooms, a fully equipped designer kitchen and an expansive ocean view balcony equipped with a Jacuzzi, private dry sauna and soaking tub. Summer rates range from $4,500 to $6,500 a night and, no, they don’t offer AAA discounts.

The USS Michael Murphy passes by the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018 during a ceremony marking the 77th anniversary of the Japanese attack. The Navy and National Park Service jointly hosted the remembrance ceremony at a grassy site overlooking the water and the USS Arizona Memorial. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

Prepping for a busy summer, Pearl Harbor National Memorial has extended its reservation window for USS Arizona Memorial Program. Since May 3, recreation.gov’s primary booking window for tickets increased from one week in advance to eight weeks. Same-day free tickets are no longer available at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.


Hawaii’s first AC Hotel by Marriott looks to open this month with 110 guestrooms priced at around $500 a night over the summer. That rate is actually considered mid-range price in Wailea, south Maui’s toniest resort community.

The new property doesn’t offer direct beach access, but for those willing to pay twice as much for that perk, there’s the Grand Wailea, Four Seasons, Fairmont and other 5-star oceanfront gems. Include on that list the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort, which just opened 19 new three-bedroom luxury units named ‘Ilikai Villas. Situated on the highest point of the property, these 1,900-square-foot villas start at $2,229 a night, a bargain compared to the one penthouse unit that’s double the size and includes the obligatory glass-bottom cantilevered pool.

Over in west Maui, four signature properties of the Kaanapali resort community have spent a collective half-billion dollars on renovations in time for the upcoming tourist season. Looking spiffy for summer are the Sheraton Maui, Westin Maui Resort & Spa at Kaanapali, Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, and the Kaanapali Beach Hotel.

The Big Island

The hottest spot this summer in Hawaii and quite possibly the world can be found on the state’s namesake island. With temperatures reaching a sizzling 2,140 degrees, lava has been flowing out of Kilauea Volcano since Dec. 26 inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

In this photo provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, an active fissure is seen in the crater of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. Lava is rising more than 3 feet per hour in the deep crater of a Hawaii volcano that began erupting over the weekend. The U.S. Geological Survey says Kilauea volcano within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island was gushing molten rock from at least two vents inside its summit crater. (U.S. Geological Survey via AP)

Visitors can view the newest eruption’s billowing plume of gas and steam by day and bask in the reflection of the glowing lava deep within the crater after dark.


Timbers Kauai, a 450-acre ocean resort, has recently expanded its Farm at Hokuala in terms of both vegetation and education. The organic orchard, which supplies the property’s restaurant, bar and spa with fresh ingredients, has added a honey-harvested apiary, egg-laying hens, sugar cane, cacao and coffee. Guests are offered a new hands-on ag experience and can make their own farm-to-table pizza with ingredients sourced directly from the farm.

Few views can beat a Hawaiian summer sunset. (Photo by David Dickstein)

Elsewhere, a nod to social distancing has Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens offering a new self-guided walking tour of its 12-acre paradise within paradise. The tropical wonderland on the North Shore features a lagoon with plunging waterfall, exotic plants, koi pond and dozens of bronze sculptures scattered about. The guideless tour is offered every Wednesday with other ways to explore available Tuesday through Thursday.

From the land to the sea, Holo Holo Charters has resumed tours after its fleet of catamarans had been anchored for over a year. Sunset sails, snorkel adventures and the company’s 7-hour “Niihau + Napali Super Tour” take guests to the waterfalls, lush valleys and sea caves for which “The Garden Isle” is famous.

If you go

Hawaii Tourism Authoritygohawaii.com; 800-464-2924

Safe Travels Hawaii hawaiicovid19.com/travel