Should we cancel 2021 tourist travel to Hawaii (Kailua-Kona)?
August 16, 2021 6:20 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I currently have flight, hotel and car reservations for travel to Kailua-Kona for mid-November 2021. We're trying to find reliable information on the current situation in order to decide if it's a good idea to travel in a couple months.

Plans were made in early Spring before we started hearing about the general overcrowding, water rationing in Maui and other issues (as well as the evolving Delta Variant situation).

We're both vaccinated and are experienced travelers to the Hawaiian Islands. We're not overly worried about our personal safety or any issues with overcrowding in touristy areas (we already mask indoors, avoid crowds, dine outdoors, etc), but we don't want to be a part of a making things worse if things on the Big Island are anything like they have been on Maui.

It's really difficult to find unbiased information on the current situation in Kailua-Kona and Hilo (where we'd be likely to spend a good portion of our time). I see lots of heartbreaking reports about Maui, but all kinds of boosterism about other islands. Coming from a tourist destination ourselves, we are particularly sensitive to visiting places in a respectful manner (staying in union hotels, planning ahead, respecting significant and sacred places, being gracious when things go sideways, etc). If locals and recent travelers say "don't go", then we will cancel. We would far rather lose a little money than arrive and realize that we're causing unprecedented stress on a fragile place during a pandemic.

Can you provide firsthand info? Less-biased articles? Your own decision-making process? Thanks!
posted by psauqee to Travel & Transportation around Hawaii (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I live on Oahu. Currently, the tourists are merrily wandering around going to restaurants and shopping and such as though there were no pandemic, while at the same time there are an increasing number of articles about hospitals running out of space and canceling elective procedures. (Here's an article about this in Hilo.) Something is going to have to give. Maybe we'll be locked down by November. Maybe we won't, and there will be bodies piling up. Maybe we'll lock down and things will get better again and we'll re-open. It's really hard to say, but if it were me, I would be inclined to look into cancellation policies.
posted by LadyOscar at 6:43 PM on August 16, 2021 [13 favorites]

We just got back from the Big Island, where we have family. We stayed in a tourist hotel on the Kona side, and visited family in Waimea, Hamakua coast & Hilo area. A few things:
-- Family operate a business on the Hamakua coast. They're very happy that tourists are back and that business is ramping up. (Though they definitely serve their local community more than tourists.)
-- Family reports a big labor shortage, presumably due to additional unemployment benefits + stimulus checks.
-- Labor shortage was visible to me in our tourist hotel, as some areas were closed entirely due to lack of staff, and others were running but clearly understaffed.
-- I felt that it was my duty as a visitor to roll with these changes, as well as my hotel's regulations re: masking, distancing, and other limits. For example, advance reservation required to use the gym. And that it was my duty to be a respectful customer in all interactions.
-- I didn't see anyone being a jerk or maskhole. That was refreshing and much better than my daily interactions in my mainland city.
-- Rental cars were astoundingly expensive. We were able to borrow a car.
-- Other basic services were astoundingly expensive. The airporter bus that goes from the K-K airport to the tourist hotels used to cost $18/person and is now $78/person, believe it or not. We were blessed to be able to skip this.
-- Within my family I think I would have heard if the message was "don't come to the Big Island." They're frank that way, LOL. I did not hear that at all.
-- The "Safe Travel Hawaii" system, or whatever it's called, was a bit difficult to navigate. When we got to the mainland airport, mine was rejected, despite providing the exact same info as for my spouse and kid, who were cleared. While flying over I used the plane's wi-fi to refile everything, and when we landed I sailed through the clearance. Try to use the system but have all the relevant info on your phone/laptop so you can deal with refiling if you need to.

I'm thrilled that we got to go, but also cognizant that the entire situation is difficult and confusing and also ever-changing.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:46 PM on August 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

I would add that it appears that the CDC will be recommending booster shots for all after 8 months which for many is October, November and December.
posted by AugustWest at 11:20 PM on August 16, 2021

The native Hawaiian folks I know have been sharing sentiments similar to those in this Teen Vogue article: What Native Hawaiians Want You To Know Before a Trip To Hawaii. It's a combination of Covid concerns and also a response to the ongoing stress of colonialism. Perhaps that perspective is more biased than you're looking for, but it's something I've taken to heart.
posted by redsparkler at 10:07 PM on August 17, 2021 [6 favorites]

Some things I did before going to Kauai in July:

- Watched KHON news clips (via YouTube). The lieutenant governor was doing Thursday interviews and Q-and-A with the newscaster that were helpful in terms of keeping track of the latest conditions from a state-wide, statistics-and-policy view.

- Watched other YouTube channels that had content local to my interests. Alot of them were tourist-facing, but they often gave a quick summary of the changing travel mandates. The ones that were not were pure awesomeness: people taking hikes, filming beaches, eating stuff … this started with hearing about flooding and landslides in April from a drone video and wanting to know more.

- Did research about the contingencies: turned out we did not need a negative test by a matter of days. If we had, I knew which of our options gave us the best chance of doing it smoothly. Had in mind what travel insurance and cancellation policies I was working with.

- Did as much as I could online. Pinned restaurants I was interested in on a map. Pre-registered the rental car. Checked in to flights so I wouldn't lose my seats. Did the Hawaii SafeTravels site. Which was hard to understand! But

- Watched the YouTube video linked on their homepage! Several times! It helped!

- Checked in with our reasons for wanting the trip vs. current conditions when the cancellation milestones came up. This is where watching local news came in handy … I wouldn’t say TV news is unbiased, but it did give me insight into what kinds of concerns were cropping up.

- Went with the flow in terms of how thing have changed once there. Tidbits gleaned from research paid off when plans didn’t pan out. Tipped well wherever I could!

Good luck with your decision!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:30 AM on August 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Hawaii Governor David Ige Urges Residents, Visitors To Curtail Non-Essential Travel

The request is to delay until November, which means no effect on your current trip, but if things don't improve significantly, I can imagine the guidance might be extended and/or turned into policy changes.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:20 AM on August 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! We've decided to cancel. It's a huge step for the Governor to do anything to discourage tourism, so it doesn't take much to fill in the blanks. There will be other opportunities to consider a trip (as well as the logistics and ethics of travel to Hawaii, in general) once we've reached a safer stage of the pandemic.
posted by psauqee at 9:48 PM on August 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

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