State of Hawaii: Safely reopening to tourism with the Safe Travels program

About the State of Hawaii

The Office of Enterprise Technology Services (ETS) for the State of Hawaii is charged with finding innovative ways to use technology to improve government processes and provide more transparency and accountability to residents.

Industries: Government & Public Sector
Location: United States

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To safely reopen to tourism, the State of Hawaii worked with Google Cloud and SpringML to build the Safe Travels program, allowing it to collect and track travel and health information for all visitors.

Google Cloud results

  • In only six weeks, built and launched the website in order to safely reopen the state’s economy
  • Since launch on August 11, 2020, more than 2.6 million travelers have used the Safe Travels program
  • To date, more than 2.4 million quarantine-exemption requests have been processed through the online system

New website helps the State of Hawaii safely reopen to travel

The COVID-19 pandemic put a sudden stop to tourism in the State of Hawaii, which had an immediate impact on revenues within the local economy. So when restrictions began to ease, the state was eager to reopen its economy and welcome visitors again, with safety for everyone top of mind.

In the beginning of quarantine, all arrivals to the islands were required to observe a 14-day quarantine period. Since this timeline doesn’t correspond well with most vacation plans, Hawaii health officials wanted to find a way to screen and track health data for all travelers in order to quickly identify and quarantine those with symptoms without overly burdening state resources and traveler movement—or more importantly, risking safety.

To accomplish this, the state needed a scalable digital solution that could be deployed across its systems to track traveler data in real time, without the time and expense of one-on-one human interactions. The solution also needed to be sophisticated enough to support a multilayered process that incorporated several state departments across all of the islands.

However, the state didn’t have years, or even months, to design and build a solution. Officials wanted to open up to visitors as soon as possible in order to start regenerating the state’s economy and continue providing services and infrastructure for its residents.

“We normally have 30,000 visitors per day coming through our airports. At the beginning of COVID, the small number of travelers we did have was easy to handle. But once you start heading back up to 30,000 per day, you need technology that can scale up easily and continue to be fast. The system now routinely handles 25,000 or more per day.”

Doug Murdock, CIO, Office of Enterprise Technology Services, State of Hawaii

From concept to launch in just six weeks

The state announced in July 2020 that it would reopen to travel in the month that followed—with conditions in place to enforce quarantine and ensure safety, of course. Eager to get the economy back on track, state officials wanted to get the screening process up and running as quickly as possible.

The Office of Enterprise Technology Services for the State of Hawaii turned to Google Cloud and SpringML to design and build the Safe Travels program, a website that travelers can use to enter their health-screening information and COVID-19 test results prior to, and during, their visits. Because the application is web based, travelers anywhere in the world can access it on any device and input their data at any time. This allows travelers to confirm their health status for state officials and test out of the mandatory 14-day quarantine, thus allowing for safer movement around the islands.

Google Cloud worked closely with the state and SpringML on a daily basis to plan, implement, and launch the application in only six weeks. By building the website on Google Cloud, the team could harness the speed and flexibility of the latest cloud technology, along with support from Google Cloud experts, to create an application that could adapt rapidly to changing needs.

The Safe Travels and Go-Hawaii help desks were powered by eWorld Enterprise Services and contact center AI (CCAI) technology. When inquiries and calls drastically increased due to the pandemic, automated virtual agents were available to answer frequently asked questions and decrease wait times, saving live agents for more complex matters.

Unlimited scalability, thanks to the cloud

The decision to build the application on a cloud platform was clear from the beginning.

“In the initial phase, everyone we talked to thought the cloud was the right solution because of our need to scale,” says Doug Murdock, Chief Information Officer at ETS.

Even though the pandemic had slowed airport arrivals across the state to less than 2,000 travelers per day, officials anticipated the need to continue tracking health and symptom data as travel and tourism increased.

“We normally have 30,000 visitors per day coming through our airports. At the beginning of COVID, the small number of travelers we did have was easy to handle. But once you start heading back up to 30,000 per day, you need technology that can scale up easily and continue to be fast. The system now routinely handles 25,000 or more per day,” says Murdock.

Google Cloud allows flexibility and scale for the Safe Travels website to accommodate as many travelers as needed, as well as add or remove features and capabilities with ease.

AI and machine learning streamline the user experience

When designing the app, the teams “also looked at the time it took to move each traveler along; 30 seconds to one minute is about all they can tolerate. So, speed and reliability needed to be foundational,” says Murdock.

The application moves travelers through the screening process quickly, while also allowing multiple ways to engage, including virtual agents powered by Dialogflow, a part of Contact Center AI. This enables a dynamic experience that better serves traveler needs without asking people to wait on hold for a live agent.

When a traveler uploads their COVID-19 test results to the application, Document AI extracts, interprets, and transports the data to Google Cloud for analysis—instantly and in the background.

After completing the health screening questionnaire 24 hours before departure, the traveler receives a QR code via email that they can download to their phone or print. Their code is then scanned by the airport screener, and the traveler is on their way. The system is so flexible that airlines are able to prescreen visitors before they board their flights at the departure airport.

The cloud foundation keeps the process—and the data—moving along seamlessly. The state can welcome more guests while continuing to track health data in real time.

“It’s been an amazing success,” says Murdock. “For most of us, what we really want out of technology is that it’s invisible. And I think for a lot of people that we’re working with, this technology is fairly invisible. It doesn’t really have much of a footprint or impact on what’s going on at the airport—and that’s the way we want it to be.”

Supporting government, local businesses, and the community with real-time insights

Along with tracking COVID-19 quarantine-exemption requests and test results, the Safe Travels website provides an opportunity to analyze all that data while also making it accessible and transparent to local government, law enforcement, businesses, and citizens.

“We had so many requests—and continue to have requests—for data from the system. And not just from government people, but also from hotels and airlines and everybody else,” says Murdock.

The state has made the anonymized data available via a public dashboard powered by Looker, Google Data Studio, and BigQuery. State officials and the public can access and analyze the data using various visualizations, while ETS can maintain consistent data models over all the data.

Having access to the data has also helped ETS improve the website by reviewing the process to identify bottlenecks and potential improvements. Thanks to the flexibility of Google Cloud, the team is able to implement updates at scale quickly and consistently.

“The state government wanted visitors to be able to come here—and for residents to feel safe, and for everyone to actually be safe. We have been able to welcome visitors back to Hawaii while maintaining the lowest case counts in the United States.”

Doug Murdock, CIO, Office of Enterprise Technology Services, State of Hawaii

Tell us your challenge. We're here to help.

Contact us

About the State of Hawaii

The Office of Enterprise Technology Services (ETS) for the State of Hawaii is charged with finding innovative ways to use technology to improve government processes and provide more transparency and accountability to residents.

Industries: Government & Public Sector
Location: United States