Even as millions of Americans are on lockdown in their homes, some people are still traveling to vacation spots, drawn by cheap airfares, the hope of riding out the pandemic in someplace less populated, or both. In Hawaii, statistics show that arrivals, which have been trending down since late February, largely led by a steep drop in visitors from Japan, remained, as of March 16, at about 80 percent of last year’s figures.
But a growing number of tourist destinations across the country are sending their own message to potential visitors: Stay home.
From Hawaii and Moab, Utah, to the Outer Banks, N.C., and a small island in Maine, local authorities are urging travelers to reconsider trips that are not essential. Even permanent residents in popular second-home locations like the Hamptons, in New York, aren’t always welcoming the influx of people who own vacation houses.
“Tourists are still coming in,” said Julie Ohashi, 36, a Maui resident, in a telephone interview on Friday. She has been protesting at the island’s airport with signs urging visitors to go home. She founded the Facebook group Maui Covid-19 Facts about a month ago and wants a mandatory quarantine for visitors.
On March 17, Hawaii’s governor, David Ige, asked travelers to postpone trips for 30 days. “The actions I’m announcing today may seem extreme to some of you, and we know that it will have negative effects to our economy. But we are confident that taking aggressive actions now will allow us to have a quicker recovery when this crisis is over,” Governor Ige said in a news release.
Travel is the leading economic driver in Hawaii. Last year, more than 10 million visitors arrived in the state, spending $17.8 billion, according to the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.
But in the coronavirus era, restrictions are mounting. Curfews and mandatory closures of restaurants bars and nightclubs for indoor service have been announced in Honolulu, on the island of Kauai and in the County of Maui. There has been a push from health care providers in the state, asking for a 14-day quarantine for incoming visitors and on Friday, local news reported that the governor’s office is working on a plan.
Hawaii County has issued guidance that restaurants, bars and places of worship may make their own decisions to open or close, and consider ways to minimize risk to customers and employees.
“The governor is requesting people postpone, but these aren’t people who will respond to a request,” Ms. Ohashi said while sharing screen shots of heated online debates between incoming travelers and islanders and photos, including one of a tourist raising her middle finger to the protesters, and Facebook comments like “Airline tickets are cheap. It’s exactly why we booked just a week ago. See you soon …”
In a letter to tourism industry leaders on Wednesday, Chris Tatum, the president and chief executive of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, referred to the island’s limited medical capacity.
“We are concerned about the limits of our health care system to adequately care for our community. Visitors putting their plans on hold for the next 30 days will allow our health care providers to manage this pandemic,” he wrote.
That’s the worry of many tourism-dependent communities that don’t have the hospital beds necessary in the event of an outbreak.
On March 16, the 17-bed Moab Regional Hospital in Moab, Utah, a popular adventure destination in southern Utah and the gateway to Canyonlands and Arches national parks, wrote to the Utah governor, Gary Herbert, asking him to shut down tourism businesses to deter visitors. The letter signed by five hospital executives, called the town “ small … cruise ship small … with similar isolation and limitations in resources.”
The next day, the Southeast Utah Health Department instituted a 30-day ban on overnight lodging for nonessential visitors. The parks remain open, and though visitor’s centers are closed, outside exhibits help visitors with logistics.
Of those traveling, many are trying to shelter at second homes where social distancing might be easier than in a city.
Rick Mordesovich, 54, a wealth manager from San Francisco, and his husband moved a week ago to their house in Sonoma, Calif., where they regularly spend weekends.
“We decided we’d stay for a couple of weeks til it blew over, but now it looks like four to eight weeks,” he said, referring to the shelter in place order issued by the County of Sonoma on March 17.
Second-home owners can still get to their properties on the string of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks in North Carolina, though Dare County has restricted access to residents, nonresident property owners and employees of local businesses by using checkpoints.
“From our perspective, we consider this pause in visitation to hopefully save some lives,” said Lee Nettles, the executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.
Colorado’s tourism industry has been rocked in the middle of ski season — March 15 to be precise — when the state’s ski resorts were shut down as Covid-19 cases appeared to spike across mountain towns, which are popular with skiers worldwide. In Aspen alone, 10 Australians tested positive for Covid-19 and were quarantined.
“We are challenged in our town more than many places in the world because of all our visitors from across the globe and also because we like to travel as well. All of this increases our potential for exposure to the virus,” wrote Jim Schmidt, the mayor of Crested Butte, in a message to the community dated March 14.
The state of Colorado now recommends that visitors “should seriously consider canceling nonessential travel,” according to its Covid-19 state website.
David Trainer, a 47-year-old financial executive from Nashville, was already in Aspen with his wife and three children on spring break when the lifts closed. The family decided to stay on in a condo owned by his in-laws and are uncertain when they will leave or how. As they consider driving to practice social distancing, they are cooking in and enjoying downtime.
“For our family, it’s been kind of a good thing,” he said. “We run so hard for school and work and sports, that hanging out, playing Monopoly and poker and going on hikes, it’s not so bad.”
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