Will Hawaii be the first big US dream destination to reopen?

A dream destination is all many think about, especially after two months of lockdown

dream destination

Ko Olina, Hawaii ©K.Cummings

We’re not there yet. We’re not close to there yet. While Italy is, at the time of writing, opening up to some travel, even international travel (but not the USA yet), the idea of actual vacations is still a dream this year for many people.

Some parts of Mexico and the Caribbean are reopening in June, as of now, but that requires passports. And depending on the situation in the US, there’s potential fear of travel restrictions, not just re-entering the country, but with other nations being more cautious of Americans.

Domestic US dream destinations will lead the way

Domestic travel, especially including staycations, venturing no further than a few gallons of gas, will likely be high on many lists.

On the other hand, Hawaii, which in my travel agent experience ranks as perhaps the vacation dreams list destination in the US, has some advantages over other states as we dream of a world where tourism is possible again.

Of course, Hawaii’s number one advantage is isolation. There is, quite simply, no way to drive to the islands. Although a coworker once, no joke, had a client ask about a train. And I did have a client myself ask about driving BETWEEN the islands. He had been to the Florida Keys and assumed it was the same idea.

Hawaii’s isolation makes it more medically controllable

dream destination

North Shore from Makapuu Lighthouse ©K.Cummings

Tourists arrive at set times, on commercial flights. These flights can be limited. Therefore, the idea of testing becomes much, much easier on Hawaii. Temperature testing (which is being done now) or better actual COVID-19 tests can be administered.

Contact tracing is also easier. Anyone arriving now, admittedly a very small number under 1,000 a day including residents, already has to give a cellphone number and an address.

The state, which has had some of the lowest COVID-19 totals, also is reopening slowly for local residents. In May and June, before the first waves of tourists arrive, the state will presumably have some experience in avoiding and containing small outbreaks.

Many pre-COVID amenities will disappear 

No one expects things to return to a pre-COVID normal. I can’t imagine crowded beaches, or packed bars, or even the ubiquitous hotel breakfast buffets. At least not for a very long time.

And there will almost certainly be restrictions on a number of things Hawaiian that visitors have taken for granted … for better or worse.  Grabbing a pool chair as soon as someone leaves? Unlikely. Lining up for water slides, ditto. Using that big bottle of sunscreen or the water cooler many nice hotels have by the pool, is probably not going to happen.

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New rules will be put in place and enforced

On the other hand, a state almost completely dependent on tourism has a strong incentive to figure it out. Police in the state before COVID-19 were already (no joke) ticketing jaywalkers. So, switching to enforcing mask-wearing and social-distancing rules seems possible.

How long until ABC stores, which in the islands are more common than Starbucks in Manhattan, start selling tropical masks (if they aren’t already)? Or, will bars start selling to-go drinks like New Orleans does, with socially-distanced sunset-watching? And, who knows, maybe hotel guests will have to sign up for specific shifts to sit by the pool.

Admittedly, Hawaii will be much more accessible to West Coast travelers. Nonstop flights eliminate added time and risk in airports, not to mention the cost. My guess is that the drastically reduced airfares that Southwest brought to the islands may be gone, too.

Travel agents have no crystal ball

Travel agents have no more of a crystal ball than anyone else. At the time of writing, Hawaii has pushed its visitor quarantine dates into June. This means early July may be difficult, as it will take time for hotels to get ready. But maybe later in the month or August might be the time to see tourism take off.

There is one sign of potential optimism, depending on your point of view. When looking ahead to the late December holiday season, not only have hotels not given up on their usual insane prices, if anything, this year’s prices are higher than ever.

So as a fan of the islands, I’ll keep dreaming. Even if we have to bring our own paper umbrellas for rum drinks.