Hawaii tourism

Frustrated residents push back as Hawaii tourism resumes

Kai Nishiki and other frustrated Maui residents woke up early Saturday and armed themselves with lounge chairs, umbrellas and towels to storm Wailea Beach and fend off growing ranks of tourists flocking to the island , surpassing the popular places locals have grown accustomed to. themselves after COVID-19 all but shut down the visitor industry.

“Residents are uncomfortable in our own space. We want the government and tourists to feel for themselves how uncomfortable we are,” said Nishiki, a community activist who organized the “Take Back Our Beach” event, pledging others to come until action is taken.

“Our communities feel left out and marginalized, as if our only value is to be a backdrop for vacation photos.”

The faster-than-expected pace of recovery is good for Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy, but it’s also created a sense of urgency to improve tourism management, especially in struggling pockets of the state. already for balance before the pandemic hit.

Angela Keen, founder of Hawaii Kapu Quarantine Breakers, said she receives complaints from hotel employees and activity providers who are concerned that some visitors “are not sensitive to our habits and our culture and our willingness to wear masks to protect our neighbours”.

“The hostility is mounting,” Keen said. “The tourism industry needs hooponopono (to make things right) with the locals, otherwise they’re going to be in a place where they’re trying to attract visitors and the locals aren’t going to be nice to them. They won’t get the aloha they normally had.

Saturday’s “Take Back Our Beach” event calling on residents to pack the beach in front of the Four Seasons and Grand Wailea hotels was a clear line in the sand against what Nishiki described as “unchecked tourism growth and poor management tourism”.

The Maui County Council has taken note and is considering measures that would reserve at least half of all public beach access parking lots for residents and visitors of parking fees.

“It’s a quality of life thing,” said Kula resident Kisha Hudson, 42, who was in Wailea Beach on Saturday. “We are all working hard to live on this island and there are so many tourists everywhere at the moment. I take my kids to the beach at the weekend and they don’t even want to get out of the car because A, there’s no place to park, and B, they’re afraid of being around so much people.

“We’re just making a statement so maybe the mayor will see how we feel about this. Obviously, tourists probably have no idea. They don’t realize there is so much animosity on the island.

Also on the beach was Michael Rossi, 38, of San Diego, a frequent visitor to Maui who said he understood some of the frustrations felt by local residents.

“They feel they need more balance in their condition; however, to repel tourism dollars, this state would have a hard time,” he said. “So what I would like them to know is that tourists, we respect the locals a lot, we respect their culture and the land, the majority of us, and we want to exist in harmony, but we also want enjoying our vacation. It’s the only chance for many kids to see a beautiful beach on Maui and now there are protesters with signs everywhere. It’s a bit of a shame.”

Tourism management

The Hawai’i Tourism Authority, the state agency responsible for managing the recovery of tourism in Hawaii, is even threatened.

The Hawaii Senate has proposed reducing HTA’s upcoming annual appropriations to $48 million from $79 million. On Friday, the Senate Ways and Means and Commerce and Consumer Protection Committees also passed a new version of HB 862 that would make sweeping budgetary and other changes to HTA.

But more importantly, HB 862 would refocus the agency on its original marketing and branding functions, one of its four pillars, instead of emphasizing new pillars such as Hawaiian culture, environment and community. The change would be a significant shift from the agency’s pivot to a destination management role after Hawaii surpassed 10 million visitors in 2019 and the impacts generated pushback from some segments of the community and of the state legislature.

HTA President and CEO John De Fries said Friday that more than 200 people testified against proposed changes in HB 862, which comes at a critical time for tourism in Hawaii.

“Wailea is just the tip of the iceberg. Among the 200 who voiced their objections are people in the community who are sitting on powder kegs because they don’t want something to blow up,” De Fries said.

“The dismantling of this system called HTA should upset everyone, because at this point in Hawaii’s history, we’re at a tipping point. This thing could go south if these kinds of issues aren’t addressed. in the right way by the right community leaders.

Heightened tensions are also part of why Ashley Lindsey, a new member of the Maui Planning Commission, was moved to tears last month before deciding to abstain from voting to issue a special permit for the use of the management area to allow the Maui Coast Hotel to construct a new six-story building with 170 rooms. After hours of discussion, the permit was granted by a 6-2 vote, with Lindsey’s abstention counting as a yes.

“Honestly, I can’t choose community over environment or, you know, like jobs,” Lindsey said.

The challenges the Maui Planning Commission faced when deciding to expand an existing hotel in a tourist district become even more complex when policy makers must regulate the spread of tourism into communities.

There was a lot of angst on Tuesday when the city’s Planning and Permitting Department held a public hearing on a plan to expand short-term vacation rentals by allowing about 1,700 other Oahu homeowners to operate bed and breakfasts. Several witnesses were troubled that vacation rental occupancy has exceeded hotel occupancy since October, when the state reopened tourism.

HTA Chairman Rick Fried said Friday the agency has come out strongly against illegal vacation rentals as part of its tourism management plan, which would be at risk if lawmakers cut funding to the HTA. organization and limited its scope.

“We have to have tourist management,” Fried said. “It’s a dramatic development and an important development (for HTA), because in my opinion, we don’t need 10 million people anymore.”

Kailua doesn’t even have a hotel, but conflicts between visitor and resident needs often stem from its popular beaches and vacation rentals. State Sen. Chris Lee (D-Hawaii Kai-Waimanalo-Kailua) recently posted a photo on Facebook showing four red convertibles, the kind of tourist-favorite rental car, parked together on the street near Kailua Beach. .

“I think we have a narrow window of time, maybe months to a year or two, to really figure out how to reinvent how we manage and manage tourism in our local communities,” he said. “If we miss that boat, there will be huge frustration in communities who feel overwhelmed.”

“Voluntary Tourism”

Lee said the fact that some tourists continued to come to Hawaii during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak created another layer of distrust that is still present. He sees “voluntourism” as a way to create a bridge.

“There are places like Palau that have done it right where ‘voluntourism’, for example, has been integrated not just into the tourist experience, but also into the local culture and economy,” he said. -he declares. “We haven’t really done more than scratch the surface of ‘voluntourism’ here.”

De Fries said the malama hawaii The program is just one of the steps HTA and the state’s tourism industry are taking to redefine modern tourism as a reciprocal arrangement in which visitors and locals give to each other.

Projects across the state range from reforestation and tree planting to cleaning beaches, preserving ocean reefs, making quilts and tending taro patches. Some hotels even offer perks like free nights to guests who participate in a Malama Hawaii activity.

Kimela Keahiolalo, educational programs manager for Kualoa Ranch, said her two-hour eco-adventure Malama Aina or Care for the Land is an example of how conscious travelers can give back by providing community service as part of a cultural learning experience.

Keahiolalo puts tourists to work tending to a kalo loi (taro patch), a business that links Native Hawaiians to their ancestors.

It’s a dirty job. But Keahiolalo said the experience has been so popular that starting April 22, the ranch will expand it to twice a day on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Keahiolalo said she was impressed with the visitors who participated.

“They didn’t just want to take from Hawaii, but wanted to bring what they could and make it better,” she said. “We have been devastated by the pandemic. So we can use the extra hands.

Vacationing knee-deep in kalo-harvesting mud at Kualoa Ranch wouldn’t be part of every tourist’s dream vacation, but California visitors Ken Goodwin; his wife, Kathleen; his sister Donna Killion; and their friend Belinda Hayes described the experience as a highlight of the trip that enhanced their understanding of Hawaii.

“Initially, you come as a tourist and that’s how you think,” Hayes said. “But I think after making the donation you can connect more with local people and appreciate where they come from and how they live.”