Alaska’s state tourism agency responded to the shutdowns by encouraging the state’s residents to “show up for Alaska.” The agency, called Travel Alaska, produced an ad
with several prominent Alaskans, including the governor, encouraging residents taking their vacations within the state. Meanwhile, Travel Alaska produced a separate ad
for out-of-state residents with a very different message. It assured outsiders that Alaska will wait for them to visit. “We want you to dream now,” the ad says, “and travel later.”
Hawaii, one of the most tourism-dependent states in the country, also has the lowest covid-19 infection rate in the country. For now, it is asking visitors to stay away.
“We are working very hard toward re-opening out-of-state travel, but we’re not there yet. We are being very cautious,” Gov. David Ige, a Democrat, said
last week, as he extended travel restrictions. “There are new virus flare-ups in key mainland markets – including California where more than 2,000 new cases were reported yesterday. Oregon, Arizona and Texas are also reporting their highest number of new daily cases.”
Ige only recently allowed travel among Hawaii’s islands to resume normally. But out-of-state visitors still have to undergo a 14-day quarantine when they arrive, a policy that is set to extend to at least the end of July. The state’s lieutenant governor has pushed a plan to institute voluntary random testing for incoming visitors, an idea that the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association has supported, too. But reopening the economy to tourists will also require new safety standards for restaurants, hotels and other tourist destinations to protect employees and visitors.
Puerto Rico has routed all incoming flights to the airport in San Juan, where National Guard troops are administering health screenings and covid-19 tests to incoming passengers. The commonwealth advises
incoming passengers that they may have to undergo a two-week quarantine, even if they don’t show any symptoms of illness. As of late May, some 77,000 passengers were screened at the airport over two months, Bloomberg reported
, and just 200 tested positive.
The response of these geographically isolated areas of the country, in other words, stands in stark contrast to the approach taken by governors – particularly in the South and West – who have pushed to reopen their economies even as the numbers of people infected with covid-19 in their states persists or even climbs.
In Maine, the governor recently said she understands the frustrations among people in the tourism business.
“I, too, am deeply concerned about our economy,” Mills said
. “But I can think of nothing more devastating than an outbreak or resurgence of this deadly untreatable virus during the height of tourism season. Nothing would be worse for our economy and for the tourism industry, in particular. I want visitors, staff and the public to know that they are protected by every means possible.”
Hewins, the head of HospitalityMaine, thinks the new requirements are unnecessarily onerous, especially compared to the restrictions imposed by other New England states.
“The replacement has created just as much pain,” he says. “It’s the industry’s belief that people aren’t going to get tested. There’s a lot of concern that [tourists] can’t even get that test in other states.”
The order has also exacerbated regional divisions between the northern and southern parts of the states, Hewins says.
The two regions have long viewed each other warily, and politically the urban south has leaned Democratic while the more rural north has been more Republican.
Mills’ quarantine and testing policies are enforced at hotels and rental housing, so they disproportionately affect communities in the north. Meanwhile, day trippers from Massachusetts have flocked to the Portland area in the south to enjoy the restaurants (where indoor dining recently resumed
) and beaches before returning home at night.
That means Bar Harbor, which is a four-and-a-half hour drive from Maine’s southern border, has been hit hard. Even worse, the cruise ships that normally bring hundreds of thousands of tourists to the island have been canceled, too.
“That’s Ground Zero for us, in terms of the depths of despair,” Hewins says. “I just saw a picture of main street in Bar Harbor from yesterday. It was a beautiful, sunny day, 75 degrees. There wasn’t a soul on it.”
But the impact will be felt far from tourist hotspots, he warns. One in six workers in the state are employed by the hospitality industry, he says. Lobstermen and farmers suffer when they can’t sell their products to local restaurants. And government revenue will dry up along with the tourist economy; hotel taxes in the state during April were 80 percent below what they had been last year.
“If we don’t get this industry restarted and at least limp our way through the rest of the season,” Hewins says, “it’s going to be a very long winter in Maine.”