Milestones for vaccines, intercounty travel and climate change

Posted on Apr 26, 2021 in Capitol Connection, Featured, Main

Gov. Ige announces the vaccine exception program.

In this pandemic, every milestone counts. For Hawai‘i, the good news is that we’ve opened vaccinations to anyone age 16 and up, we’re making it easier for fully vaccinated residents to travel intercounty if they received their shots in Hawai‘i and we’re laying the groundwork in communities statewide for more mindful tourism as summer approaches. The state also took center stage for Earth Week as a global leader in fighting climate change — a top priority of the Ige and Biden administrations.

Q: Governor, why is this the right time for vaccination exceptions for intercounty travel?

A: The mayors and I wanted to find a way for Hawai‘i residents to see family and friends without having to quarantine or do a pre-travel test, at least between the islands. We felt it would be one way to help the local economy and at the same time prepare for trans-Pacific travelers. We know the majority of those coming from out of state have gotten a pre-travel COVID-19 test so if they want to travel interisland, it would be less of an issue. This first step in easing restrictions will help us when we can expand to more trans-Pacific visitors. Our goal is still to keep our community safe while we reenergize our economy.

Q: How do we balance tourism rebound and local resident concerns?  How is HTA working with island communities?

State and community leaders at Hāʻena State Park

State and community leaders at Hāʻena State Park.

A: We’re embarking on a new Hawai‘i 2.0 course for the visitor industry. We want visitors who respect our norms, our environment and our Hawaiian culture. The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA) and the rest of us in state leadership recognize the need to manage the number of visitors — especially for “hotspots” in our communities, as we’ve done at Hāʻena State Park on Kaua‘i. We also need to do a better job of clamping down on illegal vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods and investing more tourism dollars in natural and cultural resources. HTA is taking a comprehensive approach to destination management based on the “four pillars” of its strategic plan: natural resources, Hawaiian culture, community engagement and responsible travel.

HTA has collaborated over the past 14 months with local residents and stakeholders to produce a Destination Map Action Plan (DMAP) for each island to manage tourism responsibly. The DMAPs provide a roadmap for how HTA and other state, county and community organizations can work together over the next three years to identify opportunities and solutions. The goal is to ensure that residents of each island have a voice in what a responsible, regenerative model of tourism could mean for their communities.

Q: What did the pandemic teach us about climate change, and how is Hawai‘i leading future efforts?

A: We’ve learned we can dramatically reduce greenhouse gases when we change our own behavior. During the pandemic, the air and ocean waters have never been cleaner. In Hawai‘i, we’re striving to accelerate green infrastructure, including better protection of watersheds and reefs, guarding against sea level rise and more clean energy solutions. We’ve also been working with the travel industry on reforestation to offset its use of fossil fuels. We’re proud that we were the first state to commit to 100% renewable electricity by 2045. Now our goal is to be the first net-zero community or better — to capture more carbon than we release through greenhouse gases. These are all opportunities to restructure the state’s economy and accelerate our long-term goals, and I’m heartened by the ambitious targets President Biden has set for the country.

Q: During the past year, we’ve asked a lot of everyone, especially moms in the community. For this Mother’s Day, do you have a special message of appreciation? What did you admire most about your own mom?

A: We definitely want to send a special thank you to the moms across the state for the sacrifices they’ve made during this pandemic. My mom dreamed of becoming a nurse so she went to live with a host family in Colorado, where she graduated from high school and nursing school. When you think about it, it was a pretty courageous thing to do back then for someone so young.

Read more in the May Capitol Connection newsletter.

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