Visiting Maui During COVID: What You Need To Know
Planning a Maui trip during the COVID-19 pandemic? Here’s what to expect if you’ll be visiting Maui during the COVID era. (Updated June 15, 2021)
IS MAUI OPEN TO VISITORS?
Maui’s tourism industry closed in late March 2020 when the Hawaiian islands went into lockdown to curb the virus. At that time, the state of Hawaii asked visitors not to come to the islands, and anyone arriving into Hawaii since then has been required to undergo a 10- to 14-day mandatory quarantine. However, since October 15, 2020 Hawaii has been open to visitors with pre-travel COVID testing required.
Under Hawaii’s “Safe Travels” program, travelers (age 5 years and older) arriving into Maui with negative COVID-19 test results within 72 hours prior to their flight are not subject to the usual quarantine requirement. (The test MUST be performed by one of Hawaii’s “Trusted Partner” health care providers—see below.)
As of June 15th, travelers who have been vaccinated IN HAWAII are exempt from the pre-testing requirement. This is the first step in a more extensive vaccination exemption program. At some point in coming months, the state plans to implement an exemption for any domestic travelers who have been vaccinated in the U.S.
Maui County (which includes the islands of Maui, Molokai, and Lanai) also requires all arriving passengers to have uploaded the AlohaSafe Alert COVID-19 exposure app (or other Google-Apple exposure notification (GAEN) system) to their mobile phones. Failure to do so will result in a mandatory 10-day quarantine (even if you have done the pre-travel test). More information about the AlohaSafe Alert requirement here.
Hawaii’s “Safe Travels” testing program and the other requirements noted above are constantly evolving, as more information and new options and requirements are added or removed — often varying for each island. Following are the official sites for the latest updates and details regarding the pre-travel testing program as well as the 10-day quarantine that is still required for anyone who has not been tested. If you are planning to visit Maui during COVID, check back on the following sites often as the information is updated on a regular basis:
Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau (GoHawaii.com) – Also, you can call them at 1-800-GOHAWAII with any additional questions on travel to Hawaii
Hawaii State Department of Health (HawaiiCovid19.com/travel) – This site includes the list of the Trusted Partners where you must get your pre-travel COVID test
FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS: Our state is working on similar pre-travel testing programs for international travelers. You will find more information at the above websites as those details are finalized and released. To date, Hawaii has established programs for travelers from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Canada.
SUGGESTIONS TO MAKE YOUR TRIP SMOOTHER:
GET PRE-CLEARED BY YOUR AIRLINE: Some airlines offer a “pre-clearance” program. When you check in at the airport for your flight to Hawaii, ask your airline if they do this. If so, they will verify that you have uploaded your negative test results and all other required info, and they’ll give you a “pre-cleared” wristband. That wristband will allow you to bypass the looooong line for clearance once you arrive at the airport in Hawaii.
IF YOU HAVE BEEN VACCINATED: Bring your original proof of vaccination with you when you travel to Hawaii. As time goes by, more and more restrictions will be lifted for people who are fully vaccinated. You will want to have proof with you, just in case!
BOOK YOUR RENTAL CAR BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE: There is currently a nationwide rental car shortage (for various reasons relating to the pandemic), and it is at a critical level in Hawaii. Rental cars are in short supply on Maui, and those that are available last-minute are outrageously expensive. It is highly recommended that you reserve your rental car (or at least check availability) well in advance BEFORE you make your other travel arrangements to Maui. Here are suggestions for other transportation options on Maui. You also might consider using Holoholo, a new Hawaii-based ride share company, as an alternative to Uber or Lyft.
VISITING MAUI DURING COVID: IS THERE STILL A QUARANTINE REQUIREMENT ON MAUI?
Yes. Our state cannot legally require travelers to undergo a medical test, so those who come to Hawaii without a negative COVID pre-test will be subject to a mandatory 10-day quarantine (reduced from 14 days, as of December).
Because our state does not have the authority to shut down air traffic into Hawaii, the quarantine was initially introduced with the intention of discouraging visitors from coming. In truth, we really do not want tourists coming here to quarantine for 10 days, and we do not encourage it. And why would anyone want to do that, anyway? The quarantine is very restrictive, limiting the choice of places you can stay and requiring that travelers stay INSIDE their hotel room for the entire 10 days. Quarantined travelers are not allowed to rent a car, go grocery shopping, go to the beach or hotel pool or do anything outside of their room, except in the case of medical emergency. The quarantine is strictly enforced, with hefty fines and/or imprisonment for those who violate the laws. We take the quarantine very seriously here.
We respectfully ask that if you do not want to follow our travel testing requirements, please do not come to Hawaii right now. Wait until travel is safer, the quarantine is no longer necessary, and we can wholeheartedly welcome you to our islands without any restrictions.
HOW LONG WILL THESE REQUIREMENTS LAST?
That’s up to COVID-19. Global pandemics operate on their own schedule, unfortunately, and all we can do is wait and see how all this evolves. Once the vaccine has been more widely distributed, once the virus and new variants begin to subside around the world . . . those and other factors will be considered as time goes on. Hawaii’s Governor has indicated that once 70% of Hawaii’s residents have been fully vaccinated, he will consider ending all travel restrictions into the islands, but this decision will also be based on continued monitoring of any COVID health risks and impacts in our community. Meanwhile, if you are visiting Maui during COVID in coming months, there will be restrictions. We, along with you, look forward to the time when we can all get back to a more normal existence on Maui!
WHY IS HAWAII BEING SO STRICT?
As a remote island state, we are unique in our concerns, needs, and approach to COVID-19. We have limited medical resources here. The island of Maui, for instance, has just one acute-care hospital and only 29 ICU beds. Unlike other places, we don’t have the option to drive to a nearby city for additional medical care.
Our island borders have made it possible for us to contain and control the virus extremely well, but those borders also place us in a position of tremendous risk if the virus takes hold and spreads like wildfire across the island. There is literally nowhere to run. It could quickly overwhelm our health care system.
This pandemic put our island communities in the impossible position of having to choose between public safety or a healthy economy. What is the right direction to take? There is no perfect solution, and every choice involves risk and controversy. Our local government officials have been criticized for (a) waiting too long to reopen the tourism industry and (b) reopening the tourism industry too soon. There is no right answer that everyone can agree upon.
As much as we in Hawaii might like to keep our doors closed and stay safe here forever in a little cocoon in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, that is simply not realistic and would be disastrous for our tourism-based economy. By the time we reopened to visitors in mid-October, Hawaii’s tourism industry had been closed for nearly seven months. It was catastrophic. Our leaders decided we cannot just sit back and wait this out. We must learn to co-exist with COVID and proceed cautiously to reopen our state to visitors.
VISITING MAUI DURING COVID: IS MAUI A SAFE PLACE?
Yes! The state of Hawaii has been quite successful in controlling the virus and has one of the lowest rates of COVID infections in the U.S. — the result of strict local laws implemented to curb the spread of the virus. Our island is one of the safest destinations in the world. We have worked hard and made personal sacrifices to keep it that way.
The tourism shutdown created a great deal of suffering here — Maui has the highest unemployment rate in the state, and at one point we had the highest unemployment rate in the United States. So, these past months have not been easy for us. But our residents are committed to keeping our community safe by wearing masks, social distancing, and following other recommended guidelines.
Keeping everyone on our island—both residents and visitors—safe and healthy is our top priority. Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino has said: “We want our visitors to come in healthy, stay healthy, and go home healthy . . . and that keeps Maui County healthy.”
WE WANT YOU TO ARRIVE HEALTHY, STAY HEALTHY, LEAVE HEALTHY
VISITING MAUI DURING COVID: WILL EVERYTHING BE OPEN FOR YOU TO ENJOY?
Well, maybe not everything . . . but most things. All beaches and parks are open. Most natural attractions (like Haleakala National Park) and hiking trails are open. Most shops, restaurants, and activities have reopened.
The tourism closure on Maui has been extremely challenging for local businesses. Most were barely hanging on, waiting for tourism to reopen, and they are now delighted to welcome you back. It’s inevitable, however, that some businesses will not survive this crisis and will decide to close their doors for good. We have lost some already, and it’s still an ever-evolving situation. We—along with you—are just waiting to see which businesses are able to reopen and rebound.
VISITING MAUI DURING COVID: WHAT HAS CHANGED ON MAUI?
If this a return trip and you are visiting Maui during COVID, you will notice that some things have changed on the island since your last trip.
THE UPSIDE: For our natural environment, the seven-month tourism shutdown was like a much-needed vacation and time of renewal. Our beaches and ocean are clean and beautiful. Fish have come back in abundance. Wildlife is flourishing. Flowers are blooming. Sunsets are gorgeous, as always. The environment has refreshed itself. Maui is more beautiful than ever.
Even Maui’s physical infrastructure has undergone some transformation. Several stretches of roadway have been repaved and improved, and many businesses and accommodations used the forced down-time to renovate and touch things up. And ALL of them have done thorough deep cleaning! You’ll find that everything is clean and ready for you — more so than ever before.
THE DOWNSIDE: Your visit will not be as carefree as before. There will be some inconvenience. As long as COVID is still active in the world, our island community will be focused on protecting ourselves and our visitors. That means social distancing, handwashing/sanitizing, and mask-wearing are standard procedures here. Since last year, masks have been required by State law in all public places in Hawaii. However, on May 25, 2021 the State amended the law so masks are no longer required outdoors (whether or not you have been vaccinated). Details here. Compliance is expected of both residents and visitors. Penalty for not wearing a mask in required places can include fines up to $5,000 and possible imprisonment.
On Maui, wearing a mask is not a political issue open for personal interpretation and debate. It’s a matter of public health, and we all JUST DO IT for the good of our community. When you live on an island during a pandemic, what affects one affects all. On Maui, we truly ARE all in this together, and we wear masks as an act of aloha to protect others on our island.
The philosophy here is “Spread Aloha, Not Germs.”
Before you arrive on Maui, please familiarize yourself with Maui’s most current Public Health Emergency Rules, so you will know what is required specifically on our island. (The rules change often in response to evolving issues and needs, and they are updated every few weeks.) In addition, be aware of the State of Hawaii’s mandates set forth in Emergency Proclamations. The most recent at the time of this blog update is the 21st Emergency Proclamation, dated 6/7/21, and the amendment relating to masks, dated 5/25/21. These State rules are updated and reissued every few weeks. Updates can be found here.
You will notice COVID-related changes at every establishment on Maui. Accommodations, shops, restaurants, tours, attractions – they are all required to maintain a safe, sanitized environment and adhere to necessary protocols, such as social distancing or limited occupancy, amidst this pandemic. Some have adjusted their hours of operation, instituted new requirements for advance reservations (no longer accepting walk-in customers), and limited the number of customers due to State and County restrictions. Some businesses may require temperature checks upon arrival. ALL will require you to wear a mask indoors, as that is currently required by the State’s Emergency Rules. Please don’t argue about the rules with hotel staff, cuss out the waitress or store clerk, or attack the person who informs you that a mask is required. (Unfortunately, all those behaviors have taken place here.) They didn’t make the rules; they are just trying to abide by the requirements that will allow their business to stay open. Please be patient and follow the rules that are in place. If you are unable or unwilling to abide by the required rules, don’t come to Maui right now. Postpone your trip until a later time when restrictions are no longer necessary.
Yes, your experience visiting Maui during COVID will certainly be different than it was before. There will be some restrictions and inconvenience. But aren’t we all pretty much used to that by now? And in return, you will be rewarded with astounding beauty and serenity and wide-open spaces and fresh sea air . . . and lots of welcoming smiles underneath our masks as we greet you.
VISITING MAUI DURING COVID: DO “LOCALS” WANT TOURISTS BACK? WILL YOU FEEL WELCOME ON MAUI?
After a seven-month closure, we were very excited to start welcoming tourists back beginning last October! But, to be perfectly honest, we have also been nervous about it. We are trusting our visitors to be respectful and follow the rules to protect our community, because if Maui experiences a large spike in the virus we may have to close down again . . . and that would be devastating. So, we have opened our home to visitors with some mixed emotions. Excitement and anticipation, yes—but concern and uncertainty, too.
You might run into a few Maui residents who are not welcoming towards you, although I certainly hope that doesn’t happen. If it does, ignore them. You’ll find plenty of Aloha from the rest of us. There are several complex factors at play when it comes to the attitude of local residents towards tourists: Some people here are consumed by fear that visitors will infect our island and kill us all. (So again, please follow the rules and wear your mask!) Also, the recent massive resurgence in tourism numbers has been unexpected and rather shocking to those of us who live here and got used to having the highways and beaches to ourselves for seven months! We expected tourism to rebuild slowly, and our island is now having to rapidly readjust to the huge numbers of tourists that have been arriving since March. With the pent-up demand for travel bringing so many visitors to Hawaii, we are fast approaching pre-COVID tourist numbers on Maui, and that has put pressure on our infrastructure (see more on that in the next section).
On top of all that, there has always been a minority segment of the population in Hawaii that does not want tourists here at all. Those people became empowered and more vocal on social media during the COVID-19 tourism shutdown, and they are even more vocal now that tourism has rebounded so quickly. But they don’t speak for the majority. The reality is, Hawaii will always need the tourism industry, and the vast majority of us who live here greatly appreciate our visitors. We are glad you’re here, and we will make you feel welcome.
WILL MAUI EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN, AFTER COVID IS GONE?
Honestly? We hope not! Those of us who live here don’t want it to be exactly the way it was before. In recent years, the volume of tourists in Hawaii reached record-breaking numbers, and that negatively impacted residents, as well as the visitors’ experience. Maui is a small island with a population of around 166,000 residents. In recent years pre-COVID, we were welcoming nearly 3 million visitors a year to our little island. Every month, 200,000-300,00 visitors arrived on Maui. (And we are already nearing those numbers again.)
We value our visitors — they keep our economy strong and healthy, and it’s a pleasure to see people enjoying the beauty of Maui. But as the numbers have grown in past years, we have seen tourism overrun our communities and infrastructure. The beaches and roadways were more crowded than ever. There was more strain on the infrastructure, creating more challenges for those of us who live here—and many residents began to resent that. The seams of our island community were stretched to the breaking point. Visitors complained because things were too crowded and “not like they used to be.” Residents complained because our lives were more impacted by the growing visitor numbers and yes, things were too crowded and “not like they used to be.” So everyone seemed to agree: Hawaii needs to manage tourism differently so it’s a more positive experience for both residents and visitors, as well as our natural environment.
For the past few years, there has been a great deal of discussion on this topic of overtourism in Hawaii, and COVID has provided us with an unexpected opportunity. During these months of closure, Hawaii’s tourism industry leaders have had a chance to step back, talk, plan and consider ways to “do it differently” when we reopen. Yes, we want to welcome our visitors back again! But Hawaii will be taking a more balanced approach to tourism in coming months and years. We will not be pushing for the massive uncontrolled numbers of tourists we had before and will be more mindful of the impacts of tourism. This doesn’t mean we don’t want tourists. It just means we want to manage the volume better, for everyone’s sake.
In the future, Hawaii’s tourism industry will focus more on providing visitors with an authentic, unique experience that is rooted in native culture and traditions, rather than outdated Hawaii stereotypes. There are many beautiful beach destinations on this planet, but our authentic culture and aloha spirit is what sets Hawaii apart from the rest of the world. We want to do a better job of sharing that. And in doing so, we hope to draw respectful visitors, those who want to experience Hawaii on a deeper level, connect with our community, respect our culture, and help us preserve our fragile environment. The Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau says it this way: “We want visitors who will leave Hawaii better than when they arrived. People who will be enriched by their visit.” You will see changes in Maui’s tourism industry in coming years, and hopefully they will make your experience even better than before.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO BE THE KIND OF VISITOR WE WANT TO WELCOME TO MAUI DURING THIS PANDEMIC?
- Please do your part to help us keep everyone safe, and be polite and respectful. We are welcoming you to our home. Maui is not an amusement park. It is a small island community where people live and work. We need to keep our residents and visitor industry workers safe from potential infection and make sure the island continues to be a safe destination for you, our visitors. Obey health and safety guidelines. Social distance, wash and sanitize your hands. That’s our way of life on Maui now. We need everyone’s kokua (cooperation) to keep Hawaii safe for all. Spread Aloha, Not Germs!
- WEAR A MASK. Have I mentioned that already? I cannot overemphasize the importance of wearing a mask on Maui. We will be wearing masks to protect you, and we ask the same of you. Masks are not optional here. We understand that perhaps in your community, masks are not required. But they are required here by law, except when you are outdoors. If you do not intend to wear a mask where required in public places, please don’t visit Maui right now. Wait until COVID is no longer a threat and masks are no longer required. That day will come eventually, and then you can enjoy Maui mask-free!
- Be patient with us as we navigate through this uncharted territory. Rules change. Information is constantly being updated. New issues and solutions emerge. Everything during a global pandemic is fluid and changeable. There will be inconvenience, glitches, and mistakes. We know it’s frustrating. We feel the same way. Mahalo for your patience. It will all work out with time.
- Be extra sensitive if you are planning to visit the town of Hana during this time. As an isolated community with limited medical care, Hana is extremely vulnerable during this pandemic and residents are concerned about new infection being introduced. The road to Hana was closed for months during our island’s “lockdown” period, and even those of us who live here on the island (all non-Hana residents) were not allowed to go there. Now the road is open, and it is once again packed with tourist cars. Please be sensitive to the concerns of Hana residents. Be respectful. Be considerate. Wear your mask. Keep Hana safe. Mahalo for that!
VISITING MAUI DURING COVID: SHOULD YOU VISIT MAUI RIGHT NOW?
We know that some people have been anxiously waiting to be able to visit Hawaii, and that is now possible without a quarantine if they follow the testing requirements. However, we understand that many people cannot travel right now for various reasons or they simply have no interest in visiting Maui during COVID. If you prefer to wait until the world is safer and travel is more convenient, we completely understand and respect that. Come when you are ready. We want you to feel comfortable and safe when you travel here.
In spite of the inconvenience created by this global pandemic, we can assure you that you will have a wonderful time on Maui, and there will be many people here working to make sure your visit is extraordinary. Maui is a healing place. Take a breath, relax, and renew yourself amidst the island’s natural beauty. Revisit your favorite Maui beaches, towns, restaurants and shops, and discover some new favorites, too! Connect with our land, sea, and native culture. The Aloha Spirit is alive and well here on Maui, and we’re ready to welcome you back whenever you’re ready to return.
Aloha and A Hui Hou! (Until we meet again)
Candy Aluli, Publisher
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