Hawaii's 'Safe Travels' Program a Year Later: What to Know If You're Planning a Trip

The travel program was created in October of 2020 to allow visitors to travel to the state with minimal risk of spreading COVID-19.

A year since Hawaii launched its 'Safe Travels' program, requiring domestic visitors to arrive with proof of a negative test or proof of vaccination, state officials say the protocol isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

"I think, at least, through the end of this holiday season," Lt. Gov. Josh Green told Hawaii's KHON2 on Friday about how long the program will be in place. "The reason for that is that there's a higher COVID rate on the mainland, and we're still adjusting to the prospect of bringing international travel here. So, we wouldn't want to kind of make too many large changes all at once."

'Safe Travels,' which was created in October of 2020 to allow people to travel to the state with minimal risk of spreading COVID-19, first allowed domestic tourists to skip quarantine by showing proof of a negative test taken at a "trusted partner" site. In July, the state expanded the program to allow fully vaccinated travelers to skip the pre-travel test if they instead showed proof they got the shot.

Woman in a facemask takes selfie on cliff overlooking coastline of Hawaii
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The program was initially slated to end when Hawaii hit a 70% vaccination rate (which it has already reached on a statewide basis), but due to the delta variant, Gov. David Ige kept program protocols in place. Ige has also extended the state's emergency order, continuing capacity restrictions on places like restaurants, and has asked visitors to cut back on trips to the state.

Of course, the program hasn't been without its hiccups in the last year from fake vaccination cards (which come with a fine of up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment of up to one year) to long lines. But the document check lines have been significantly helped by airline preclearance programs, allowing passengers to verify their documents before boarding and then skip document screening lines when they land.

All six main airlines that fly to Hawaii now offer a pre-departure clearance program, KHON2 reported.

"That has really been a lifesaver for us," Safe Travels Hawaii Special Project Administrator Sheri Kajiwara told the station. "I would say maybe 75 to 80% of our passengers are screening at the point of the pre-departure."

A woman in her fifties looking at the dramatic landscape at Kalalau Lookout on Kauai
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Going forward, Kajiwara said the state may need to update the program as the United States prepares to welcome vaccinated foreign travelers in November.

"The state leadership is now looking at all of those recommendations, and I understand that the governor will be making some decisions shortly on how we will amend Safe Travels to align with the federal mandates," she said, adding, "The holidays are coming, and Thanksgiving is a time where we are worried that the virus count will increase again. So, we want to keep that from happening and keep ourselves and each other safe."

But ultimately, Green told the station the program has been a successful one: "Safe Travels has kept COVID at bay."

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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