Over the last 4-6 weeks, Hawaiians have become increasingly frustrated with tourists visiting the islands during the pandemic. Many visitors are ignoring quarantine rules and have put locals at risk of contracting COVID-19.
Some residents have already organized protests near the Maui airport, holding signs that said: "TOURIST GO HOME," "LEAVE OUR AINA!," "TIME TO GO," and "GO HOME."
Now the Hawaii Tourism Authority has issued a $25,000 grant to nonprofit Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii (VASH) to fund a program that will pay tourists who violate quarantine rules with a one-way ticket back to their home airport, reported The New York Times.
Since the start of April, VASH has provided 20 tourists with one-way tickets away from Hawaii, sending travelers back to Guam, Alabama, and Colorado. Many of these folks were violating quarantine rules.
"The majority of travelers we have sent back, in my opinion, have been irresponsible in traveling to Hawaii during the Covid-19 pandemic when they know we are trying to keep Hawaii safe from the spread of this disease," said Jessica Lani Rich, the president and chief executive of VASH.
With beaches closed and the tourism industry ground to a halt, new tourist arrivals have plunged 99%. Many locals are riding out the virus storm at their homes while tourists are playing on beaches and hiking trails.
"They either don't get or are ignoring the message," Lynne Matusow, a Honolulu resident told The Times. "We have locals, in masks, scolding them for sitting on beaches, with towels, umbrellas, coolers, etc. That is forbidden."
Rich said many of those who VASH returned home were taking advantage of pandemic pricing for airfare that was super cheap. She said a roundtrip ticket from Oakland, California, to Honolulu was around $238.
"I see maybe one or two tourists a day," said Ryan Houser, a restaurant "fish sommelier" and Waikiki resident, saying, "it's a little offensive" when tourists go on the beach and ignore social distancing rules while locals stay at home.
"Our residents had to close their businesses and have financial hardships and to have people come here right now and want to vacation, it is reckless," said Rich.
Hawaii's economy collapsed when the tourism industry shut down on March 17 to mitigate the spread of the virus. On Saturday, quarantines in Hawaii were extended through the end of May.
Strict social distancing rules in the state have kept cases lower versus other states. On Sunday, there were 604 cases with 14 death.