How Google Cloud AI Solutions Helped Hawaii Handle Post-Pandemic Tourism


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The pandemic’s impact prompted a slew of technological needs some state and local governments had never before considered, but now can’t move forward without. To adapt, governments are adopting Google Cloud’s scalable, digital solutions that can be deployed cross-systems and automate sluggish manual processes, while providing citizens with the consumer-facing services they expect.

From white-sand beaches to lava flows, Hawaii is a famed tourism hotspot. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state welcomed 30,000 visitors through its airports a day. Tourism naturally dipped during the pandemic, and when tourism started to climb again after travel-related pandemic restrictions were lifted, state officials realized they would need additional tools and technology to process the travel boom — reopening being essential to Hawaii's tourism-based economy — while keeping both residents and visitors safe and healthy. Namely, technology that could collect and track necessary travel and health information for all visitors.

Scalability here was key. Once they decided to open back up to tourism, Hawaii needed a system to handle the extra health and safety requirements at scale. The State turned to a time-efficient, cost-effective solution for both the government and travelers: Google Cloud’s cloud-based, scalable, machine learning tool Document AI, or DocAI, in collaboration with Google and SpringML. In partnership with Google, the Office of Enterprise Technology Services for the State of Hawaii team built and launched the Safe Travels program in just six weeks. 

The program allows Hawaii to screen and track health data for all travelers to identify and quarantine those with symptoms, without stressing state resources or making the traveler experience more complex. By partnering with Google Cloud Hawaii was able to accelerate the time to launch: the state didn’t have years or months to build a solution or overhaul legacy IT systems — something that remains true for any unprecedented event the future holds. 

Travelers use the Safe Travels website to enter their health-screening information and COVID-19 test results. The application is web-based, so travelers can access the website on any device at any time. And the website includes a Go-Hawaii help desk powered by eWorld Enterprise Services and contact center artificial intelligence technology to field inquiries and calls to automated virtual agents. 

“Pre-pandemic, Hawaii received 30,000 domestic and international travelers per day. When the pandemic hit, that number went down to a couple hundred travelers per day. The drop in flights and travelers significantly impacted the state’s economy,” says State of Hawaii Chief Information Officer Doug Murdock.  “We worked closely with State of Hawaii Chief Information Officer Doug Murdock and his team to launch the first phase in six weeks,” says Amanda Stange, Head of Sales, Pac West Region at Google Cloud.

The Safe Travels application enabled travelers to upload their negative COVID-19 test data, leveraging Google DocAI to read the test. If a traveler uploaded their negative COVID-19 test from one of the State’s trusted providers, DOCAI would provide a traveler with a green QR code, which allowed the traveler to pass through without further screening. 

Designing for Efficiency

Serving thousands of visitors a day, the Safe Travels application needed a design that was simple, user-friendly and could scale to a significant number of concurrent users without user delays or bottlenecks. It moved travelers through the travel screening process quickly and provided virtual agents with Google Cloud Dialog flow. Travelers could receive answers from a virtual agent and didn’t have to hold for help. On the backend, DocAI extracts, interprets and transports data from traveler-uploaded COVID-19 test results to Google Cloud for analysis. From there, the cloud foundation helps move the data along seamlessly in real-time throughout the traveler’s airport experience.

Travelers simply scan the QR code they received via email at the airport, allowing the State of Hawaii to welcome guests efficiently while tracking health data in real-time. Since its August 2020 launch, over 12 million travelers have used the Safe Travels program, and the online system has processed more than 2.4 million quarantine-exemption requests.

Travelers experienced the ease of usability and consumer-like experience of the program. They receive updates and confirmations of their vaccination or test result statuses right to their mobile devices, even daily text messages checking in if the traveler tested positive. 

This solution has long-term benefits, too. With the help of Google Cloud Data Studio and BigQuery, the anonymized data is available via a public dashboard so state officials and citizens can analyze data and create helpful visualizations. These data models and trends can be useful over time. 

Having this data has helped Hawaii’s Office of Enterprise Technology Services catch bottlenecks and improve the process where needed. And when changes are necessary, Google Cloud enables the office to easily update necessary information, dashboards and processes.

The technology also allowed the State to provide more efficient and effective call center customer service to constituents and visitors who had questions about how to traverse the new regulations. According to Hawaii Chief Information Officer Doug Murdock, in an 8-hour work day at a human-run call center, workers could only manage to answer 10% of calls. With AI, Murdock said they can cover 100% of calls. “We created the SafeTravel help desk and vaccination help desks all done with Google Call Center AI and their chatbots and voice bots," Murdock said. “It’s been a tremendous ability for us to help all the citizens of the state as well as visitors get services they need.”

Expanding the Possible with AI 

Reymund Dumlao, Director of Google Cloud West, points to the economic impact Google Cloud and its AI-based tools have had on Hawaii and can have for other agencies.  

“The Hawaiian economy is largely driven by tourism. When COVID-19 hit, Hawaii relied on AI to safely maintain the economy. Consider manually processing those 30,000 travelers per day with the COVID safety applications and data they must share,” he notes. This would be incredibly time-consuming for state officials. DocAI’s ability to process the applications was “essential” to keeping the state’s economy stable.

Much of this impact wouldn’t have been possible had Google Cloud not been able to stand up these processes so quickly. 

“They had to automate and move quickly,” Murdock says. “If they had to process the COVID-19 test and vaccine cards manually, it would have delayed travel, people would have stopped coming, which has a drastic effect on individual Hawaiians and citizens who work in hotels, restaurants or provide transportation services.”

“Ultimately, this has real, human impact, and that’s the art of the possible with this technology,” says Dumlao “ Google Cloud is changing how state officials work, and how state government functions. When citizens can access state-run websites to fulfill federal requirements with the same ease and functionality as any other consumer website, that’s when processes are working.”

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