Over the weekend, reports emerged from Hawaii that a travel bubble between the Pacific islands and other destinations in Asiana, including Australia, could be in works. Proposed by the Hawaiian governor David Ige at a media briefing on August 18, this plan to welcome non-American visitors back to the tourism-reliant islands could be a reality as soon as October 1, as efforts to kickstart the state's starved local economy take shape.
But don’t throw on a lei and hotfoot it to the airport just yet, because Hawaiian hopes of an Aussie tourism boom in just six weeks' time is unlikely to get off the ground. While it’s true that Hawaii has recorded far fewer cases than many other parts of the US – which until last week, when it was slightly overtaken by Brazil and India, was the global epicentre of the pandemic – American citizens are still able to travel to and from the islands, although they are required to self-isolate for two weeks upon arrival.
The same would be true for international visitors, which would likely put off the vast majority of travellers. However, Ige has suggested creating ‘geo-fenced’ hotels, where guests could move freely around a resort complex while still technically in quarantine. Ige has also proposed waiving the 14-day quarantine for any arrivals who test negative within 72 hours of their arrival.
However, as has been seen in Melbourne, large-scale hotel quarantining is an imperfect solution to isolating inbound arrivals, and prone to lapses in security. Also, since community transmission is still being detected in many parts of Hawaii, efforts to ensure holidaymakers are virus-free before allowing them out in public would do little to protect them from infection during their vacation.
The issues facing this proposal become even more intractable once you factor in the return leg of a trip. In order to ease pressure on hotel security, strict daily caps have now been placed on the number of Australian citizens and residents allowed back into the country, and many states and territories also now require arrivals to pay for their own 14-day hotel quarantine, which in NSW, for example, costs $3,000 per adult. The potential of a prolonged exile and a whopping quarantine bill is hardly the way most people would choose to end their hols.
A federal mandate currently in place also means anyone wishing to leave Australia must have a travel exemption approved to do so. These are only granted under specific conditions, for example a family emergency – holidays for any reason currently do not qualify. Prime minister Scott Morrison has previously said that international borders would not reopen before interstate travel bans were lifted. Any likelihood of that happening in the near future seems slim at best, so holidays for Hawaiians in Australia are almost certainly a non-starter at present. A one-way travel bubble might still suit Hawaii, but ultimately it would little to help the Australian economy while adding additional pressure to the border security measures currently in place. It also doesn't bode well that Hawaiian authorities have already attempted to open up the state to international tourism twice before, but have been forced to call off plans due to local spikes in new cases.
The most likely candidate for an international travel bubble still remains New Zealand, but with community transmission still a factor in both countries right now, it’s probably safe to say that overseas holidays will not be on the cards for any of us until 2021 at the earliest.