Hawaii is paying for tourists to fly home to places like Guam and Denver, showing the deepening rift between locals and visitors in popular vacation spots during the coronavirus lockdown

A man walks in Honolulu on April 7, 2020. AP Photo/Caleb Jones
  • Hawaii has ordered anyone entering the state to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
  • For those who refuse to abide by the two-week quarantine or can’t afford to, Hawaii is paying for their flights back home, Elaine Glusac reported for The New York Times.
  • The Hawaii Tourism Authority set aside $US25,000 for the flights and has already sent 20 travellers back home, according to the Times.
  • Tourism statistics show that more than 3,000 visitors have come to Hawaii in April, many enticed by cheap airfare.
  • The presence of tourists during the pandemic has angered locals, sometimes resulting in physical skirmishes.
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Some people can’t resist a cheap flight deal, even during a pandemic.

Hawaii, which has ordered all visitors and residents arriving on the islands to undergo a 14-day quarantine, has taken a firm stance against such opportunists. Tourists who don’t have the means to pay for the required accommodations and food delivery for a two-week quarantine will get a free one-way ticket home, Elaine Glusac reported for The New York Times.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority gave $US25,000 to the nonprofit Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii (VASH) to facilitate buying plane tickets for those not obeying the quarantine – and they have already sent 20 people home, according to the Times.

“The majority of travellers we have sent back in my opinion have been irresponsible in travelling to Hawaii during the Covid-19 pandemic when they know we are trying to keep Hawaii safe from the spread of this disease,” VASH’s president and CEO, Jessica Lani Rich, told the Times.

Hawaii has 606 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 14 deaths.

Hawaii airport coronavirus
A Hawaii Army National Guard specialist screens departing passengers at the airport in Honolulu on April 6, 2020. Sgt. John Schoebel/Army National Guard via AP

At a news conference on March 17, Governor David Ige said he “strongly encouraged” visitors to postpone their vacations to Hawaii.

But the tourists continued to come, irking residents and local officials who say visitors shouldn’t able to ride out the pandemic on Hawaii’s beaches (all of which are closed).

In the week ending on April 26, about a month after the governor ordered the 14-day quarantine for those coming into Hawaii,813 non-resident visitors arrived at the Honolulu airport, according to the tourism authority’s daily passenger count.

Many were lured by airfare as cheap as $US100, according to the Guardian. A quick online search shows that one-way flights to Honolulu in May cost as little as $US167 from Los Angeles, $US181 from Seattle, and $US242 from New York City.

Hawaii oahu beach
A beach in Oahu during a surfing competition in December 2019. Kelly Cestari/WSL via Getty Images

At the end of March, a family from Illinois, the Shepards, said they were attacked by a local man in Waikiki who accused them of trying to spread the virus, Hawaii News New reported.

“He started screaming and yelling about how we’re not from here, and that we need to leave,” Robert Shepard told Hawaii News Now. The family told the publication that they had taken advantage of cheap flights to Hawaii, that none of them had symptoms, and that they were complying with social distancing.

Versions of this situation have played out in vacation communities across the US, from the Hamptons in New York to Jackson, Wyoming, as angry locals have reported an influx of tourists, often from big cities, coming to wait out the pandemic in vacation homes and rentals.

Hawaii pleads for non-residents to stay away despite the tourism industry suffering

In April 2019, more than 856,000 people visited Hawaii and spent $US1.33 billion, statistics from the tourism authority show. In April 2020, a little over 3,000 visitors have come to the islands.

Tourism in Hawaii has taken a bigger hit in the pandemic than in any other US state, partially because the economy is so reliant on the travel industry, according to a new report from WalletHub.

Maui Rental Car Idle
A sugar cane field turned parking lot for unused rental cars. Matthew Thayer/Maui News

The steep drop in tourism has resulted in surreal scenes like those captured by Maui News photojournalist Matthew Thayer, who shot a series of hundreds of unused rental cars lined up in sugar cane fields on the island of Maui.

Despite the consequences, the state is begging people to stay away during the coronavirus lockdown.

John Monahan, president of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, sent a letter to several media outlets asking them not to promote travel to Hawaii, according to CNN.

“Our greatest fear is that this unprecedented pandemic will overwhelm our health care system for locals and visitors alike,” Monahan wrote. “… It is our responsibility to ensure the safety of visitors and residents alike, and therefore request that anything written about Hawai’i strongly discourages travellers from visiting Hawai’i until otherwise directed by our state officials.”

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