As the travel and tourism industry implodes, savvy consumers, with zero f*cks given about contracting the virus, have been buying cheap airfare to Hawaii, along with heavily discounted rooms at top resorts. Around mid/late March, when strict stay-at-home orders went into effect, locals, who were confined to their homes, noticed many of these tourists were disregarding public health orders. This infuriated some who allege that if an outbreak on the island(s) was seen, it could easily overwhelm the local hospital system.
By late March, tensions between locals and tourists were quickly building. A group of locals held a protest at Kahului Airport in Maui County, holding up signs that read: “TOURIST GO HOME,” “LEAVE OUR AINA!,” “TIME TO GO,” and “GO HOME.”
By mid-April, the Hawaii Tourism Authority issued a $25,000 grant to nonprofit Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii (VASH) to fund a program that would issue one-way plane tickets to tourists who broke 14-day quarantine orders or other social distancing rules. As of April 26, we noted about 26 tourists were provided one-way tickets back to their home airports for breaking the rules.
Now it appears things are getting serious in the state. Authorities are arresting “rogue tourist” who break quarantine orders:
“A newlywed California couple left their Waikiki hotel room repeatedly, despite being warned by hotel staff, and were arrested. Others have been arrested at a hotel pool, loading groceries into a vehicle outside a Costco and bringing take-out food back to a hotel room,” AP News said.
The strict measures, some of the most stringent in the country, have been working to suppress the outbreak. As of Friday, about 629 cases and 17 deaths have been reported in the state, a relatively low number when compared with Northeast states.
Hawaii sacrificed its largest industry: tourism – to fend off the virus. With many resorts, restaurants, and other businesses closed, unemployment has skyrocketed to 25% to 35%. At least 100 hotels have suspended operations as locals stay home to weather the public health crisis.
Honolulu City Councilmember Kym Pine said the sacrifices Hawaiians are making today to protect their communities, in the long run, is hugely disrespectful when a tourist comes to the state and blatantly ignores the rules.
“The people that are coming don’t care about us. They’re coming to Hawaii on the cheap and they obviously could care less whether they get the virus or not,” she said. “So they obviously could care less about that mom and dad who have no job and no food.”
AP says the honeymooning couple, Borice Lepovskiy, 20, and Yuliia Andreichenko, 26, of California, refused to sign a “quarantine agreement” after they came back late one night after picking up pizza. The next morning, they left their room and were arrested.
At least 20 people have been arrested statewide on charges of breaking quarantine orders. Many others have been given warnings or citations. Anyone who is convicted of the violation is subjected to a $5,000 fine and a year in jail.
“Officials have even considered having travelers wear an ankle bracelet during their quarantine period, or setting up a designated site where tourists would be required to stay at for the 14 days,” AP notes.
Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, said hotel key cards are being programmed to only allow people to check-in – so when they leave their rooms – they will need to get a new card, which would be a red flag for front-desk workers that the tourist potentially violated quarantine rules.
AP provides several other accounts of tourists being arrested:
Last month, a pair arrived on Kauai and were told to go directly to their hotel. Kauai police stopped them after they were seen going in the opposite direction of their hotel.
Adam Schwarze, 36, who police said lives on Oahu and his travel companion, Desiree Marvin, 31, of Alexandria, Virginia, were ultimately arrested in the parking lot of a grocery store.
Leif Anthony Johansen, 60, of Truckee, California, was supposed to be in quarantine but was spotted on a personal watercraft off Oahu’s famed North Shore. He was later followed to a Costco, where agents from the state attorney general’s office arrested him as he was loading groceries into his vehicle.
Hannemann said he’s surprised that people still are coming to Hawaii considering much of the attractions are shutdown:
“I am, quite frankly, quite surprised that people would still want to come because this is not the Hawaii that you’ve dreamed about, that you want to experience,” said Hannemann of the tourism and lodging association. “There’s a lot of attractions that are closed. Everyone is walking around with masks. You know, we’re just not going to demonstrate that spirit of aloha that you’ve heard so much about. … So to me, it’s just crazy for someone to still want to come here.”
And a word to the wise – it’s probably a good idea to stay away from Hawaii at the moment. The next thing you know, law enforcement might start tracking tourists with GPS bracelets.