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 November 20, 2020)
IS MAUI OPEN TO VISITORS?
Maui’s tourism industry closed in late March 2020 when the island went into lockdown to curb the virus. Since that time, the state of Hawaii has asked visitors not to come to the islands, and anyone who arrives into Hawaii has been required to undergo a 14-day mandatory quarantine. However, on October 15, Hawaii reopened to visitors — with pre-travel COVID testing required. Arriving travelers with negative COVID-19 test results within 72 hours prior to their flight are not subject to the 14-day quarantine. (The test MUST be performed by one of Hawaii’s “Trusted Partner” health care providers—see below.)
The testing program is constantly evolving, as more information, additional testing partners, and new options and requirements are added. Following are the official sites for the latest updates and details regarding the pre-travel testing program as well as the quarantine that is still required for anyone who has not been tested. If you are visiting Maui during COVID, check back on these sites often because information is updated on a regular basis:
Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau (GoHawaii.com) You can call 1-800-GOHAWAII for 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
Maui County Website For COVID travel info specifically relating to Maui
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, we have already established a program for travelers from Japan, and beginning in mid-December a testing program will be instituted for travelers from Canada, in partnership with WestJet and Air Canada. (See those airlines’ web sites for more details as they become available).
VISITING MAUI DURING COVID: IS THERE STILL A QUARANTINE REQUIREMENT ON MAUI?
Yes. Our state cannot legally require all travelers to undergo a medical test before arrival, so those who come to Hawaii without a negative COVID pre-test will be subject to the mandatory 14-day quarantine that has been in effect in Hawaii since March 26th.
Because our state does not have the authority to shut down air traffic into Hawaii, the quarantine was introduced with the intention of discouraging visitors from coming. In truth, we really do not want tourists coming here to quarantine for 14 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 14 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 be pre-tested prior to arrival, please do not come to Hawaii right now with the intention of quarantining. 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. If there is a vaccine, if the virus begins to subside around the world . . . those and other factors will be considered as time goes on. Meanwhile, if you are visiting Maui during COVID, 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 has put our island communities in the impossible position of having to choose between public safety or the 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. Our leaders have 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.
VISITING MAUI DURING COVID: IS MAUI A SAFE PLACE?
Yes! The state of Hawaii has been very successful in controlling the virus. Hawaii currently has the lowest rate of COVID infections in the U.S., and Maui is one of the safest destinations in the world. At the time of the original writing of this blog on October 15, there had been a total of 409 confirmed cases and 18 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic in Maui County (which includes the islands of Maui, Lanai, and Molokai). We have worked hard and sacrificed to make 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. At this time, we are maintaining a very low rate of new positive cases of COVID on the island of Maui. Keeping everyone on our island—both residents and visitors—safe and healthy is our top priority.
In preparing to reopen to tourists, 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 a lot of things, especially as time goes by. All beaches and parks are open. Most natural attractions (like Haleakala National Park) and hiking trails are open. Many shops, restaurants, and activities have already reopened (like Mala Ocean Tavern restaurant in Lahaina–pictured here).
The tourism closure on Maui has been extremely challenging for local businesses. Most have been barely hanging on, waiting for tourism to reopen, and they will be delighted to welcome you back. Some businesses, including a few of the large resorts, have waited to reopen a bit later in October or November, once tourism numbers have started to rebuild. And it’s inevitable that some businesses will not survive this crisis and will decide to close their doors for good. It’s an ever-evolving situation right now and we—along with you—are just waiting to see which businesses reopen and when.
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 this 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.
We expect that the tourism numbers will rebuild slowly, so in the first few months of our reopening you’ll find that there is less traffic than before and beaches are not as crowded. All good!
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. Masks are required by law in all public places in the state of Hawaii and compliance is expected of both residents and visitors. (Details here; see Exhibit J at the end for mask requirements.) Penalty for not wearing a mask 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 on our island. 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 15th Emergency Proclamation, dated 11/16/20, but these rules are updated and reissued every few weeks.
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, 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 guests due to social distancing. Some may require temperature checks upon arrival. ALL will require you to wear a mask, as that is currently required by the Emergency Rules.
So, 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 are very excited to welcome our visitors back! But, to be perfectly honest, we’re also nervous about it. We are just hoping everyone will 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 catastrophic. So, we are opening our home to you with some mixed emotions. There is excitement and anticipation—we want to get back to work again and establish some normalcy. We want our visitors back! But there is 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 some people here who are consumed by fear that visitors will infect our island. (So again, please wear your mask!) And there has always been a minority segment of the population in Hawaii that does not want tourists at all. Those people have become empowered and more vocal on social media during this COVID-19 tourism shutdown. 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 will make you feel very 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, we have been welcoming nearly 3 million visitors a year to our little island. Every month, 200,000-300,00 visitors arrived on Maui.
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, 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. We are welcoming you to our home—a bit nervously. 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. If you do not intend to wear a mask 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 reopen. Rules change. Information is constantly being updated. New issues and solutions emerge. Everything during a global pandemic is fluid and changeable. There will be glitches and mistakes, as the pre-travel testing system is fine-tuned. 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, but please be sensitive to the concerns of Hana residents. Be respectful. Wear your mask. Social distance. 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 as of October 15th that is now possible without a quarantine if they follow the requirements for a negative COVID test prior to their flight. 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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