Now that Hawaii has lifted some restrictions and fully vaccinated travelers can even skip pre-travel testing, mainland tourists have descended on the islands in numbers that are overloading infrastructure and causing residents to object.
With visitor arrivals to Maui already at pre-pandemic levels, airports operating at overcapacity and local businesses struggling to meet sudden demand after several months of closure or limited operations, Mayor Mike Victorino recently made headlines calling on US airlines to voluntarily limit passenger capacity. in Hawaii. Maui also imposed a new resort tax this month to help offset the impact of COVID-19 on devastated local economies.
On Oahu, where the situation is much the same – with tour buses and rental cars slowing traffic, flooding beaches, invading local hotspots, parking illegally and generally failing to respect the prized natural environment of the island – the residents had all they could bear.
“During the pandemic, people realized how nice it was to not have so many tourists,” said KC Connors, a member of the activist Facebook group “Enough Tourists Already.”
Plus, Hawaii hasn’t even fully reopened yet, as international arrivals are still limited. If the islands are struggling to manage current levels of overtourism, there are concerns about what will happen once Hawaii’s borders reopen to the world. “If Oahu is already full to capacity at this point in the reopening, what will happen when international visitors return?” said Connors.
To address these tourism challenges, the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), in partnership with the community and the City and County of Honolulu, developed the “Oahu Destination Management Action Plan” (Oahu DMAP ). Over the past five months or so, the HTA has developed this plan, which outlines the steps that the community, visitor industry, and other affected sectors believe must be taken to improve Oahu’s tourism industry in over the next three years. It is expected to go to an HTA council for a vote on July 29, with the expectation that the plan will be made public sometime in August.
HTA Planning Director Caroline Anderson said, “The public demands action, our residents demand action.” She noted that Oahu is the latest to join the DMAP planning process, while the other major islands have already completed their parts. “The concerns on Oahu were really similar to the other islands — that there were too many visitors,” Anderson said.
Unfortunately, the state is unable to limit visitor arrivals, but Anderson said the HTA is trying to figure out what he and his partners can do to better manage tourist volumes, especially in sensitive areas. .
“HTA, under its current leadership, understands that we need to change. The industry impacts the lifestyle, well-being and sustainability of our future,” said Joe Ibarra, General Manager of Kahala Hotel & Resort, who is also a member of Oahu’s DMAP pilot community. . “This is the turning point.”