HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii officials have approved a plan to reduce tourist numbers on its most populous island.
A management plan created by the Hawaii Tourism Authority aims to manage the number of tourist accommodations on Oahu, seek land use and zoning changes and review airport policies, the Honolulu star advertiser reported Friday.
Hawaii Tourism Authority planning director Caroline Anderson said the plan will be implemented over the next three years.
“We believe that if residents aren’t happy, visitors will sense it and won’t have a good experience on the island,” Anderson said.
The agency’s president and chief executive, John De Fries, said he doesn’t yet know what the tourism cap should be.
“I think the priority for us to get to that answer is to get illegal hosting under control,” De Fries said. “We see this as number 1. I’m encouraged that each of the counties is making this a higher priority on each of their islands.”
The plan also includes a “regenerative tourism” tax that supports environmental resources and allows the tourism agency to better monitor trails and other natural sites.
Additionally, the plan aims to manage visitors’ use of cars as a mode of transportation on the island.
The move is a change for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, which was created in the 1990s to increase tourism and fill the Hawaii Convention Center.
Then, as the vacation rental market grew, Hawaii had more than 10 million visitors in 2019 — a record that has led some residents to complain of capacity issues.
There has been a sharp drop in tourism for most of the pandemic, but now visitors are flooding in.
In June, more than 791,000 visitors flew into Hawaii, according to preliminary visitor statistics released jointly Thursday by the State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Of these, 521,796 visitors arrived from the western United States, exceeding the number of 452,958 visitors in June 2019 by more than 15%. Some 247,382 visitors came to Hawaii from the eastern United States. United in June, up 3% from the 240,223 visitors who came to Hawaii in June 2019.
“It looks like there’s more tourism here than before COVID. It’s been that way for a few weeks when everything started to open up, and that’s taking into account that our Asian market isn’t didn’t even come back,” said Choon James, a North Shore realtor who ran for mayor of Honolulu in 2020.
“The island has not grown. The beaches haven’t gotten bigger,” James said. “Tourists are smart enough not to enjoy Waikiki and congested areas anymore. They actually frequent local beaches and expand into local areas.
But some believe this tourism surge is a bubble that could soon burst.
“There are two main reasons for this outbreak. One is pent-up demand and the euphoria that things are looking up with COVID,” said Keith Vieira, KV & Associates Principal, Hospitality Consulting. “The other is that there’s really nowhere else to go. Once the rest of the world opens up, current gains will not be sustainable.