Kauai ended another tourism shutdown in early January by allowing inter-island travelers to return to the island, but the impact of the coronavirus on the economy is having devastating consequences.

The head of Hawaii’s lodging and tourism association said if Kauai tourism does not improve soon, many businesses are expected to fall off a cliff and take employees, contractors and vendors with them, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported on January 18th.

Travel to Kauai plummeted for the second time since March 2020 after Mayor Derek Kawakami opted out of the state’s Safe Travels program Dec. 2, requiring all travelers to the island to undergo a mandatory 10-day quarantine with no option to test out.

The island changed course and permitted participation in Hawaii Safe Travels beginning Jan. 5 and introduced its own trans-Pacific entry program, The Resort Bubble Program.

Options regarding testing, quarantining at the Bubble Resorts has been difficult to explain and harder to sell to potential visitors, said Mufi Hannemann, president of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association. Tourists seem to be skipping Kauai as a destination and opting one of the other islands due to the less restrictive policies or to other destinations than Hawaii all together.

The December survey of Kauai businesses by the Kauai Chamber of Commerce and the tourism association’s Kauai chapter painted a bleak outlook for the island’s employment opportunities, health care benefits and business survival rates.

About 49% of respondents said they did not expect their businesses would survive more than 90 days without a significant return of tourism.

“Federal relief and state assistance will not be enough to spur economic recovery on the Garden Isle,” Hannemann said.

Hannemann said he is hopeful the mayor will “amend travel directives without compromising his healthy objectives if the current economic downturn worsens.”

Many businesses, as high as 17% to an analysis by online business-rating platform Yelp have decided to permanently shutter their doors. We have witnessed the many closures over the past few months with owners seeing that choice as their only other option to saddling themselves with added debt if they were to attempt second-round PPP loans.

It is disheartening seeing our friends and neighbors closing shops and restaurants their families have worked for decades. Areas that used to see the bustling of tourist footsteps are now nearly ghost towns. With tourism being a large driver in Kauai’s economy, it is now begun affecting business segments that weren’t dependent on tourism. Somehow a better solution to the current travel restrictions needs to be implemented before the economy has reached the point of no return… If it isn’t too late already.

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