Feasibility of a Japan travel bubble

LIHU‘E — Could a soft opening of the state to Japanese visitors be the first strategy in establishing the state’s economy and reinventing tourism?

It’s an idea that Hawai‘i Executive Collaborative member Paul Yonamine, Chief Executive Officer with Central Pacific Financial Corporation, brought up to the state’s Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 on Thursday.

The committee agreed to work with Yonamine on this proposed pilot program to potentially establish a Hawai‘i-Japan travel bubble, possibly as early as July. The committee offered to help facilitate the creation of this strategy.

Much of the detailed work — like officially connecting with Japan, airlines, having a tighter hold on testing, possibly traveling tourists — need to be worked out, but as Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole (D-24) said, this could be a “first draft of a restarting strategy.”

Japan is the state’s largest international market, with 1.4 million visitors bringing in about $2.1 billion in 2019. Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted the country’s state of emergency on Monday.

As of May 28, Japan has over 16,683 cases and over 867 deaths, according to the World Health Organization Health Emergency Dashboard. Over 13,000 cases have recovered.

One of the pros to bringing in Japanese tourists is their willingness to follow rules, Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D-14) said. But while committee members positively voiced the potential of this program, they were worried about tourists coming in and getting the virus while here. Instituting a measure of testing before boarding a plane could be a way to deter this, but it would likely need approval from the state’s Department of Health and Japan’s government.

Like Hawai‘i, Japan is focused on containing the virus, rigid hygiene protocols, fever tracking and contact tracing, Yonamine said. These measures, Yonamine said, would produce a desirable pilot program for the state and jumpstart the tourism economy and lower unemployment numbers, which hover around 22.3% as of the end of April.

Yonamine has already started developing a Kizuna-Aloha communication campaign, with messages from Gov. David Ige expressing his condolences for canceled travel plans, to keep Hawai‘i “top of mind” to tourists.

“Health and safety can be turned into wellness and value,” Yonamine said.

Some of the first steps the group is planning to work on are bringing together a list of best practices, prerequisites and conditions for traveling.


Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or sbodon@thegardenisland.com.

  1. Wally Roberts May 29, 2020 2:47 am Reply

    “One of the pros to bringing in Japanese tourists is their willingness to follow rules…”

    That is unjust discrimination, pure and simple. Shame on “enlightened” Hawaii!

    1. Doug May 29, 2020 9:38 am Reply

      No, it’s not discrimination, it’s based on behavior…….let’s see, who do we want here, the Japanese who will all be wearing masks and following protocols or the party idiots from Florida and the rest of the mainland who don’t care about anyone but themselves……..I’ll take the Japanese!

      1. billyjoebob May 29, 2020 2:21 pm Reply

        No need to look to the mainland for ” idiots “. Have you checked the police arrest log on your island lately?
        How many family abuse and not following the mayors rules? You got plenty of them in your backyard.

      2. Nicole June 1, 2020 10:26 am Reply

        You’re very much mistaken! It’s not a matter of who we want here, it’s a matter of who is leagally allowed to travel within the United States of America…and that’s all Americans. The State is setting itself up not just for racism and discremination suits (oh yes, they are coming), but also blatant civil rights violations and the law suits that will follow. Make no mistake, Hawaii is part of the United States of America, and if we’re accepting federal disaster funds, we must also follow American law and act as part of the union.

  2. Dale Morris May 29, 2020 6:41 am Reply

    I think the last I checked Hawaii was part of the UNITED STATES ???? The suggestion that Americans don’t follow the rules is a political bunch of BS. To give the Japanese the right to visit one of our states before allowing fellow Americans, I am guessing must be against the constitution, I ask everyone to write your congress about this absurd idea. Come on people stand up for your god given rights, the politicians like this idea because the Japanese spend more money? What about all the federal funds funneled into Hawaii by the UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT????

    1. riiiiighht May 29, 2020 12:15 pm Reply

      Yes because the founders wrote in the constitution “Thou shalt not let in japanese tourist before allowing in american tourist”

      honestly what are you even talking about?

      Also if you think that Americans not following the rules is somehow political bs you realize that at this moments there are people burning down Minneapolis? Have you seen any videos in japan about fights breaking out over wearing masks? People in this country act like little kids that need to be scolded to behave. Always justifying acting ridiculous by saying America, or Freedom, or God given rights lol

      1. Jeff S. May 30, 2020 5:51 pm Reply

        Follow the news better!! Minneapolis is not “burning” down over mask wearing.

  3. jake May 29, 2020 7:03 am Reply

    I don’t suppose anyone remembers that it was a JAPANESE visitor who brought the first case of COVID 19 to the islands and spread it around like grass seed? You’re so eager to open those tourists gates and kill people to make those bucks. How about moving your greedy butts to the mainland where you can do some real damage?

  4. WestsideResident May 29, 2020 7:11 am Reply

    Direct Japan Lihue pre-clearance flights please.

  5. Merci Schon May 29, 2020 9:24 am Reply

    I have no comment regarding Japanese following rules, I have no idea. But as a citizen living on the mainland, I know for a fact that mainlanders don’t follow rules! Just take a look at Michigan, Florida and Arkansas. No regard or respect for others; not even a mask. Yes, this is all getting very boring and I agree that we need to start opening up, but not at the expense of others, but with consideration for others. As for those that did not quarantine while on Kauai, they were from the mainland, not Japan. Fairness to all, but I do understand the logic here.

    1. Mary P May 30, 2020 8:19 am Reply

      The overwhelming number of us are NOT science denying Trump supporting idiots! My state IL has one of the strictest orders in the US and we follow the rules ! Japan is fudging their numbers ! They’re foreigners ! You’re as bad as Trump for stereotyping innocent Muslims for the crimes of few . You will NEVER recover economically for this ignorance .

  6. kauaiboy May 29, 2020 10:05 am Reply

    Perhaps 1% of Japanese tourists to Hawaii make it to Kauai. Maybe 2%, bit they get on a tour bus like cattle, drive around for the day, and get back on the bus, headed for their lodging in Waikiki. NO GOOD FOR KAUAI BUSINESSES! God for Oahu, and especially Waikiki.

    Perhaps 5% of visitors from New Zealand and Australia get to Kauai. NOT GOOD FOR KAUAI BUSINESSES!

    The Hawaii government must quickly figure out a way to lower the quarantine on mainland visitors, or we will go down the tubes financially and economically.

  7. Puzzled Taxpayer May 29, 2020 10:37 am Reply

    How much money was it that American taxpayers pumped into the North Shore flood disaster, despite the subsequent limits on access to Haena, Ke’e, and the Kalalau? How much
    American taxpayer money has been pumped into the airport?
    Did anyone on Kauai receive CARES checks and supplemented unemployment checks, funded by American taxpayers? The suggestion to allow only Japanese tourists smacks of naïveté, general ignorance of what it means to be a state, and incredibly short memory. If that’s your best idea, keep the island closed.

    1. Puzzler May 30, 2020 12:50 pm Reply

      What does any of that have to do with tourist coming in from another country?

      You say American taxpayers like people in Hawaii aren’t included in that. We pay taxes. We get benefits to paying those taxes, like federal support. None of that has anything to do with trying to establish a safe way to bring in tourist.

    2. Loladog May 31, 2020 5:54 pm Reply

      Lola supports the American tax-payer support of the North Shore flood recovery, Lihue airport, and direct financial support to residents. Woof!

  8. steven May 29, 2020 12:30 pm Reply

    Bringing in tourists from Japan will do little for the outer islands. This Oahu-centric plan does nothing for the historic towns including Waimea, Hanapepe and Hanalei. These historic towns are struggling. We need a plan that allows the small towns to thrive or there will be vacant historic buildings once again. The unique and Kauai-made products in the historic towns are most appreciated by the mainland travelers.

  9. onehapa May 29, 2020 6:01 pm Reply

    I live in a mainland tourist area ( Central Oregon Coast). Our county has had 8 confirmed cases since the beginning. I was at a large grocery store today with controlled capacity entrance. I would say 95% of customers were wearing masks and maintaining distance VOLUNTARILY. Please don’t throw us all in the same pot with those Lake of the Ozark fools. Our hotels and vacation rentals are opening Monday 6/1. We’ll see how that works out a month from now.

  10. Steve B May 29, 2020 6:04 pm Reply

    I live in a tourist hot spot on the mainland that’s just now opening up and it’s true that too many tourists (and locals) do very little to protect themselves or others from the virus. It’s all about me, me and me. Maybe loosening restrictions for the Japanese can be a path forward for opening the islands. And I don’t see what the Constitution has to do with any of this.

    1. Wally Roberts June 1, 2020 2:35 pm Reply

      Read the 14th Amendment, Steve. If we don’t enforce the Constitution, you and I can toss our freedoms into the dumpster.

  11. Charles L. Chimknee May 29, 2020 6:07 pm Reply

    No Mainlanders on Kauai until a COVID vaccine!

  12. Peter May 29, 2020 6:30 pm Reply

    2020 Covid19 deaths in Hawaii = 17
    2020 Traffic Fatalities in Hawaii = 24

    While we’re at it let’s also close down all roads except for Japanese drivers. Because they follow the rules !

  13. Wally Roberts May 30, 2020 1:51 am Reply

    14th Amendment of the Constitution:

    Section 1.
    All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

  14. Rev Dr Malama May 30, 2020 9:16 am Reply


  15. Elisabeth Classen June 1, 2020 10:35 am Reply

    If Hawaii allows Japanese Tourists to enter, so does tourists from the Mainland and other countries (e.g.: Europeans, Canadians, etc) should be allow to enter Hawaii as well. It does not matter whether how people behave from one country, it should not be judged by the country, it is an individual behavior. If Hawaii only open for tourists from Japan, it is a discrimination to others. Tourists from all countries (including from Mainland) should be allowed to enter Hawaii, if Japanese can enter Hawaii. It is my humble opinion……..

  16. Sari June 3, 2020 7:59 am Reply

    Hahaha, Ige says what most locals would prefer: Let Japanese in, and keep white people out!

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