Since Hawaii welcomed tourists back in mid-October, allowing them to skip its 14-day quarantine as long as they had a negative coronavirus test, more than 100,000 people have rushed to the islands from mainland states, exciting state officials, some hoteliers, airlines and local business owners, who for seven months have watched the state’s economy grind to a halt.
Instead of the quarantine, the islands began accepting a preflight coronavirus test for entry under a program it is calling Safe Travels. The state is only accepting what are known as nucleic acid amplification tests processed by specially certified laboratories, and test results from certain trusted testing and travel partners, including some airlines.
Those who test negative within 72 hours of departure are exempt from quarantine upon arrival. Those who didn’t take a test before flying have to quarantine for 14 days, and those who arrive with a pending test must quarantine until they receive negative results. People who test positive are required to immediately take a PCR test, which detects the virus’s genetic material, and quarantine in their hotel room or other vacation lodging.
“Hawaii is at the vanguard of what travel will look like for the next year or so as we reopen,” said Avi Mannis, senior vice president of marketing at Hawaiian Airlines, one of a handful of airlines that began offering pre-travel Covid-19 tests in October.
Hawaiian, through Worksite Labs, is offering state-approved tests to passengers at drive-through labs near Los Angeles International and San Francisco International airports for $90 for results within 36 hours, or $150 for day-of-travel express service. Passengers take PCR tests within 72 hours of traveling, upload their results to the Hawaii Safe Travel app before departing and show their results to state authorities in Hawaii upon landing. But the airline doesn’t check passengers’ test results before they board.
“Your test results are between you, your health care provider and the state of Hawaii,” Mr. Mannis said.
The surge of arrivals — 8,000 of them on the first day pretesting was available — presented an opportunity to test out new protocols for travelers that could help determine how to reopen travel internationally. If Hawaii’s reopening goes well, the belief is that preflight testing could become widespread. And on the islands, if hotels can figure out how to deal with growing occupancy, the same thing could be done worldwide.
But what travel industry actors view as an opportunity to reopen safely and