An Air Canada plane flies across the skies. Gov. David Ige announced that Hawaii will be opening up its pre-travel testing program to Canadian travelers, one of the state’s biggest markets. Ige said the state will also start requiring all travelers under the program to get their test results prior to departure. JOHN MCARTHUR / UNSPLASH photo

Gov. David Ige announced that the pre-travel COVID-19 testing program will extend to visitors from Canada beginning mid-December, a long-awaited option for Canadian travelers seeking to vacation in Hawaii through the winter.

Travelers from Canada will have the option to bypass a 14-day quarantine upon arrival into Hawaii if they can provide a negative COVID-19 test result from trusted lab partners identified by Air Canada and WestJet.

A test must be administered 72 hours before departure and a negative test result must be confirmed prior to boarding the final leg of their trip — a new policy for domestic trans-Pacific and international flights traveling to Hawaii under the testing program.

“Our friends from Canada have already celebrated Thanksgiving, and as it gets colder, there are many, many, many who want to travel and return to Hawaii,” Ige said during a news conference Thursday. “We have been overwhelmed with phone calls from our Canadian friends asking when they can safely come back to Hawaii.”

Maui is the top island destination in the state for Canadian visitors, Ige said. Hawaii’s second largest international market is Canada, following Japan. U.S. West and East Coast visitors, however, tend to spend the most in the islands, followed by Japanese and Canadian visitors, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority data.

Under the state’s pre-travel testing program, travelers are allowed to fly to Hawaii even if they don’t have their results yet, though they must quarantine until they receive one. Ige said he will adjust the program starting Tuesday to require that travelers to Hawaii who wish to bypass the mandatory quarantine must have a negative test result from a state-approved COVID-19 testing partner prior to boarding the final leg of their trip.

The test must still be administered within 72 hours of the flight.

“You must have a negative test result before landing in Hawaii or else you will go right into a 14-day quarantine, no exemptions,” Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said via Zoom during the news conference. “I want to thank Air Canada and WestJet for entering our market, I worked with them earlier this week and they were very gracious and assured me that no one would get on the plane unless they had a negative test.

“We look forward to their contribution into our economy and to our lifestyle.”

Some airlines, including WestJet and Air Canada, have dropped change fees and cancellation fees in the event that test results do not come back in time or come out positive, according to Ige.

The changes in the pre-travel testing program were made in light of the “dramatically increasing number” in coronavirus cases across the nation and world, Ige said.

The governor explained that 94 percent of travelers participating in the pre-travel testing program arrive with test in hand. However, at least 44 travelers have received a positive test result upon arrival or a day or two later.

“It’s not a large number, but it’s enough to change the policy,” he said. “We have to close the gap to ensure everyone’s safety.”

Ige said that the state is still in conversations with South Korea and Taiwan about adding them to the pre-travel testing program.

John De Fries, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said it’s too soon to say how many Canadian travelers are anticipated to fly into the state starting mid-December, but that Hawaii is “ready to welcome you back.”

While many international travelers have shown relief over the state’s expanding pre-travel testing program, many Hawaii residents have expressed concerns. Several comments on Facebook during the livestreamed conference and other social media outlets noted that the islands are not ready for more trans-Pacific travel, especially if businesses, schools, sports programs and other industries are not fully back.

Others had questions about travel arrangements, quarantine orders and how effective the program truly is in combating the spread of the virus.

Since launching on Oct. 15, the Safe Travels program has reported 186,969 visitors and 86,051 residents using the pre-travel test, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said. Of those screened, 7,217 have been required to quarantine and 243,140 have been exempted.

“By doing this, we’ve been able to keep the COVID rates lowest in the country,” said Green, who added that the positivity rate for a seven-day rolling period is at 2 percent. “We will continue to reassess the program to make sure that the people of Hawaii are safe.”

Over the past month, Canadian residents sent more than 30 emails to The Maui News, voicing concerns over the state’s lack of pre-travel testing options in Canada. Many had already booked flights to Maui and feared that their whole trip would be spent in quarantine or that they would have to cancel plans.

Some are part-time homeowners in Maui County and wanted to get back, while others touted the potential boost to both economies.

“Being able to get a test here would be perfect,” said Shirley Main of British Columbia, who has owned a home on Maui for 25 years and usually spends between four to six months on island.

“The holiday season is fast approaching and many Canadians are anxious to go to their Maui homes for the season,” Main added.

Scott Strap said earlier this month via email that “my wife and I are a couple of the thousands of Canadians who are looking to come to the island.”

Their trip isn’t planned until early February, Strap said, but knowing there’s a pre-travel testing option has put their minds at ease. Still, the everchanging pandemic situation is “indeed a huge concern.”

Direct flights from Vancouver to Maui via Air Canada and WestJet flights were canceled in October and November when international travel was still unknown, Canadian resident Diane Fru said in an email. She and her husband instead flew Alaska Airlines to Seattle to get to Maui on Nov. 7 and have been sitting in quarantine ever since.

“I would like to add that the process at the Kahului Airport when we arrived was extremely expeditious,” Fru said. “We knew we had to register online with the secure traveler website that we were coming and then 24 hours before we arrived, we requested and received a QR code.”

Fru said that “we get a safe travel daily check-in requiring us to confirm that we are still quarantining and confirming the location we had provided.”

Now that the pre-travel testing program is expanding, Air Canada and WestJet will be identifying testing labs in Canada with the help of the state Department of Health.

WestJet is partnering with DynaLIFE and its participating pharmacies. Guests must present the approved clinic with a WestJet ticketed itinerary within 72 hours of their flight, according to the airline’s news release.

Canadian residents can view more testing options in their country by visiting select airline websites.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at [email protected]


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