Mayor Victorino Declares ‘Rebirth of Our Visitor Industry’ with Launch of Safe Travels Program
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At Kahului Airport, just before the Thursday morning arrival of United Airlines Flight 417 from Los Angeles, Maui Mayor Michael Victorino declared: “This is a new day for Maui County. It is a rebirth of our visitor industry.”
To mark the occasion — the launch of the state’s Safe Travels program and the start of economic recovery for the island — Victorino walked around the baggage claim in the company of a kahu who conducted the blessing.
“Today, we welcome back visitors and we also welcome back our residents,” said Marvin Moniz, Maui Airports District Manager. “Our lives depend on tourism. At this point, our lives depend on making sure our family, our ʻohana is still working. Nothing saddens me more than seeing locals moving away from home. … We need to find ways to keep our ʻohana here in Maui.”
Flight 417 was Maui’s first arriving plane from the mainland under the Safe Travels program. Also known as the pre-testing program, it enables returning residents and tourists to Hawaiʻi to skip the mandatory 14-day quarantine if they meet requirements that include providing proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken with an approved partner and within 72 hours of the last leg to Hawaiʻi.
The 14-day quarantine has been in place since March 21, when COVID-19 cases began showing up in Hawaiʻi. The quarantine has played a large role in keeping COVID-19 cases relatively low in Maui County at 409, with 18 deaths. It also has played a large role in job losses, leading to one of the country’s highest unemployment rates for a county at 20.7 percent.
Moniz, the Kahului Airport manager, said “bookings were good” for today. The airport has been averaging about 450 people a day (200 from the mainland and 250 inter-island) during the pandemic. For the first 14 days in October, an average of only 122 people per day arrived from transpacific travel, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Moniz said he expected between 700 and 900 arriving passengers today. While it’s a significant increase, it’s still not close to the 7,000 daily passengers or so that the airport averaged before the pandemic struck.
Few people on Maui expect the recovery to be quick. But the sight of Flight 417 pulling up to Gate 27 nearly 25 minutes early, with 136 passengers eager to step foot on Maui, was a nice site for Victorino,
“We’ve got to get our economy back,” he said. “But my wife said I also don’t sleep so well. I don’t want another outbreak and we’re forced to take a step back.”
Victorino said he hopes residents and guests will be patient, flexible and respectful as “glitches” are worked out and the program evolves to ensure the safety of everyone.
“I want people to come healthy, stay healthy and leave healthy,” he said. “I want everyone to help Maui County stay healthy.”
The County is making voluntary second tests available for arriving passengers. “Everybody is working hard to make this work,” he said.
Among the happy passengers was Jill Loscko, of the Los Angeles area. She already was dressed for the island with a Hawaiian outfit from head to toe and a yellow flower in her hair.
“After such a horrible year,” Loscko said. “I can’t wait to sit on my lanai with a cocktail and enjoy the ocean.”
The pre-testing process got mixed reviews.
Loscko said she had a difficult time trying to find a state approved location to get a COVID-19 test and get the results back within the 72-hour timeframe. She said she spent $380 on two tests at two different places and still had to convince the medical person at the checkout desk to accept the negative test she did receive in time.
“I found it almost impossible to do it under the guidelines, Loscko said.
But tourist Julie Little from Southern California said the process was “Smooth as silk. We got ours from CVS and now we’re good to go.”
Passengers disembarked Flight 417 and immediately went through a safety checkpoint near the gate. Eight tables were set up with staff to process the arrivals. It took more than an hour for some of the passengers at the back of the line to make it through.
But the passengers were treated with their first taste of Maui at the baggage claim area, where Joel Katz, Kalena Foster and Kahala Greig were playing Hawaiian music. The trio usually plays at the Old Lahaina Lūʻau, but it has not been open since March and likely won’t reopen until late next month.
“It’s good to be out,” Foster said smiling.
Susan and Jerry Jorge from Kāʻanapali were among the Maui residents who scheduled their return trip from the mainland for today in order to take part in the Safe Travels program. She joked family members were glad the launch date was not delayed again. “They’d be saying mom and dad are still here.”
- Terry Seabrook of Charleston, SC, said everyone was telling her she was not going to be able to make the trip to Maui. “I said, ‘Yes I am, and booked with faith’.” She paid $200, which included extra to have her test results expedited, and said it was worth it. “I’ve just come to relax. I’m tired.”