Why Would We Even Think About Reducing Tourism?

Hawaii Tourism Authority

By: Amoka Mele

This week, Hawaii officials approved a plan to reduce the number of tourists on Oahu. In reducing the number of tourists, the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) aims to manage the number of tourist accommodations on Oahu, seek land use and zoning changes and review airport policies. The plan will be implemented over the next three years. As of yet, no firm cap on the number of visitors have been set.

HTA contends that the reductions stem from unhappy residents and that tourists when sensing residential unhappiness will sense that and will not have a good experience on the island.

The run for HTA is getting a handle on the illegal accommodations. Each county has dedicated efforts underway to remove illegal accommodations now. The plan calls for a regenerative tourism fee that supports environmental resources and allows the tourism agency more oversight of trails and other natural sites. The plan also seeks to manage visitors’ use of cars as transportation on the island.

Tourism reduction is certainly a change for the HTA, which was created in the 1990s to increase tourism and fill the Hawaii Convention Center.

Before the pandemic, Hawaii saw a record more than ten million visitors in 2019 which caused some residents to complain about capacity issues. There was a sharp decline in tourism throughout most of the pandemic, but now visitors are flocking back.

In June, more than 791,000 visitors arrived by air to Hawaii. Of those, 521,796 visitors arrived from the U.S. West, exceeding the June 2019 count of 452,958 visitors by more than 15 percent. Some 247,382 visitors came to Hawaii from the U.S. East in June, 3 percent more than the 240,223 visitors who came to Hawaii in June 2019. Currently, it feels like there is more tourism here than before the pandemic and that is because there are more. This increase despite Asian tourism not having returned yet.

What makes residents unhappy is that tourists are frequenting local beaches and local area. Oahu has not grown any bigger. The beaches here have not grown any bigger.

Those arguing against reducing tourism believe the recent increases are a bubble that could soon burst. Hawaiians characterizing the tourism boom as being temporary describe pent-up demand and general euphoria that things are getting better as drivers fueling the increases. People have been locked down for over one year and they can come to Hawaii because they can and because just for right now, there is really no place else to go. Once the rest of the world opens, the current levels of tourism seen in Hawaii will go away.

The crackdown on illegal accommodations is alone telling. Reducing the competition smacks of playing to a union. Broadband 2.0 is supposed to enable Hawaii residents to work and learn remotely and create new businesses. Cannot Air BnB be such a created business? We just went through a time when 1-in-every-5 Hawaiian workers was unemployed. Centuries old businesses in our islands went under. This state has $97 billion in unfunded liabilities and the best we can do is a regenerative tourism fee? This is just another tax! Hawaii already has the highest tax rate in the United States. Keep the tourism coming. We must create other businesses that make us resilient and self-sustaining before we restrict one of the only livelihoods Hawaiians have available.