Will visitors flock to Hawaii when quarantine lifts? Hawaiian Airlines CEO is optimistic

Hawaiian Airlines CEO Peter Ingram doesn’t know when Hawaii will be open to visitors again, but he sees signs vacationers are ready to return when government restrictions lift.

a man standing on a beach: In this April 21, 2020, photo, a surfer returns to Waikiki Beach in Honolulu.

The airline said its late summer and early fall flights are currently booked about a quarter full. That’s down from about 40% at this time in a normal year, but is an improvement over zero demand for flights after Hawaii instituted, and strictly enforced, a mandatory two-week quarantine for arriving passengers in late March to thwart the spread of coronavirus. The quarantine was recently extended through May 31.

When the quarantine lifts, Ingram said, people will be itching to travel again.

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“I think people are tired of being cooped up,” he said on the airline’s earnings conference call Tuesday. “To the extent that they’ve got the flexibility and the economic wherewithal to do it, they’re going to want to travel, and Hawaii is going to be an appealing place, like it always is.”

One thing in Hawaii’s favor besides its beaches, hiking and other tourist attractions, Ingram said: a low number of coronavirus cases.

Hawaii “is a place where the effects of this horrible disease haven’t ravaged it as much,” he said, adding, “By acting quickly and aggressively, we are as close to COVID free as any place in the country.”

Still, traveler safety measures will be important to luring vacationers back and reassuring locals that it is safe to reopen to tourism, Ingram said.

He said calls for coronavirus tests for arriving passengers aren’t realistic given shortages in tests and technology limitations, but he does expect some kind of health screening and said the industry is looking toward measures taken in Asia after the SARS outbreak in 2002.

The state is being careful not to reopen too quickly, Ingram said, because reopening and then again closing Hawaii to visitors would confuse travelers, and uncertainty about what to expect when they landed would hurt demand for trips to the state.

“When the quarantine is removed and we start having more economic activity, we’d like it to stay removed and … not have to toggle back and forth in restrictions,” he said.

Ingram said he expects restrictions on travel between the Hawaiian Islands, so-called neighbor islands including Maui, Kauai and the Big Island, will likely resume before long-haul travel from the mainland. The latter might even be phased in by geography, he said. The largest volume of flights to Hawaii is from the West Coast. 

Ingram said no one expects a summer full of Hawaii flights running 80% to 90% full, as is usually the case, but that there should be travel demand depending when the quarantine lifts.

“I do think there’s an opportunity for us to build (bookings) once we are able to open up again,” he said.

If the quarantine is extended, of course, those advance bookings the airline has will not materialize, resulting in more refunds or flight credits for passengers as trips to the bucket list destination are canceled or put off.

“It’s not our call to make, ultimately,” he said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Will visitors flock to Hawaii when quarantine lifts? Hawaiian Airlines CEO is optimistic

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