As Hawaii reopens, tension amplifies between locals and tourists

Published on : Tuesday, November 3, 2020

For anyone who has traveled in recent times, including travelers with negative results on a preflight COVID-19 test might have to leave dining at two well-liked North Shore Kauai restaurants.

On Oct. 15th, the state reopened to trans-Pacific travel. Under its Safe Travels testing program, it would now allow travelers to skip the 14-day quarantine . As tourists started returning, the Saenz Ohana Breakfast food truck in Princeville and the Bistro restaurant in Kilauea came to a decision to restrict on-site service to the ones who have not traveled in the past 14 days as a safety precaution. Those who do not meet this fixed criterion can order online. However, the wording of their initial Facebook declaration for the food truck and in a sign at the door of the restaurant pointed out the fact that only residents with state ID would be allowed to seat. This caused angry responses from couple of visitors, even after the owners clarified the new rules applied to all people with recent travel histories.

The resulting controversy shows a caution flag in all through Hawaii about the return of mass tourism and the negative impacts that it brings along, even as many welcome the boost in economy with open arms.

“I’m sorry to say that this once-favorite restaurant is off my ‘must go to list’ after I discovered they do not welcome visitors … I will miss the beet salad but what I won’t miss is being discriminated against for not having a (Hawaii) drivers license. Aloha also means goodbye,” Joan B. of Moraga wrote in an Oct. 19 post to the Bistro on Yelp, who also said she owns a home on Kauai and travels there five times a year. “I hope they rethink their business decision because many of us won’t forget.”

In his reply, which he shared with other dissatisfied Yelp posters as well from the mainland, Bistro owner Matt Ernsdorf refuted claims of discrimination and noted the limited medical facilities on Kauai.

“(The) recent traveler request applies to all Bistro patrons, employees, family, visitors, locals — even me, the owner,” he wrote. He emphasized that Kauai medical providers had suggested against the single-test reopening, keeping in mind that there are only nine ICU rooms in the area.
“The Bistro will listen to our medical providers and the state department of health over the politicians,” he concluded. “Just as I would listen to my Doctor over President Donald Trump. Please come and visit us after 14 days.”

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