Hawaii dropped travel restrictions to visit the islands locals say are already overflowing with tourists

  • Hawaii lifted its travel restrictions for fully vaccinated domestic travelers on Thursday.
  • Travel to the Aloha State is already surpassing 2019 levels by some measures
  • Locals and businesses are beginning to feel the strain of over-tourism again.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Hawaii eased some of its travel restrictions on Thursday, announcing that fully vaccinated domestic tourists no longer need to quarantine or take a pre-flight COVID-19 test.

Unvaccinated tourists still have to either quarantine or test negative 72-hours before flying to the islands. But for those who are vaccinated, this new announcement is “really going to be a game-changer,” Sheri Kajiwara, Hawaii’s Safe Travels special projects administrator, said, according to Jenn Boneza’s report for KHON2 News.

However, the dropping of travel restrictions for fully vaccinated tourists might not lead to an extra boost in tourism, primarily because most people have already booked their summer “revenge vacations,” the University of Hawaii’s Economic Research Organization told KHON2’s Nikki Schenfeld.

Regardless, at the rate tourists are currently flocking to Hawaii, the number of travelers headed to the warm-weathered state are already coming close to or surpassing 2019’s levels. And now, locals and businesses are feeling the strain of mainlanders swarming the islands again.

“I have been talking with different airlines and … we’re asking for just a pause, if you want to use that term,” Maui County mayor Michael Victorino said during a press conference on June 29. “We don’t have the authority to say stop, but we’re asking the powers to be to help us.”

Over-tourism is not a new issue for Hawaii, but local figures like Kaniela Ing – former Hawaii House of Representatives member and current climate justice campaign director at People’s Action – want tourists to “stop coming to Hawaii,” Ing wrote in a tweet that now has over 120,000 likes.

“[Tourist hotspot Waikiki Beach] looked like it did before the pandemic,” Kawenaʻulaokalā Kapahua, a graduate student and community organizer told Insider’s Monica Humphries in April. “But I could count the number of masks on one hand.”

It’s not just locals that are feeling this burden: businesses in Hawaii are also struggling to meet the demands of this rising number of visitors.

“The people of Maui County have lacked sufficient time to prepare for the sudden, large influx of tourism, even as health restrictions remain in place,” Brian Perry, a spokesman for Maui County mayor Michael Victorino, told Hawaii News Now’s Rick Daysog. “Many of our hospitality-related businesses are still struggling to fully staff their operations to provide a high quality of customer service.”

Even companies like U-Haul in Hawaii have been feeling this strain. Hawaii’s rental car fleet dropped by over 40% during COVID-19, and many car rental companies haven’t been able to regrow their fleet sizes in time for the summer travel boom. As a result, tourists headed to the Aloha State have turned to renting moving trucks and vans, decreasing U-Haul’s on-hand equipment for locals.

“While this [demand] has left many of our U-Haul stores and dealers with less available equipment than usual, we are working every day with our primary customer base – the islands’ residential movers – to ensure we can still meet their transportation needs,” Kaleo Alau, the president of U-Haul Company in Hawaii, told Insider in an email statement in April.

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