Hawaii’s tourism agency plans to reduce visitors to Oahu

July 30, 2021 GMT

HONOLULU (AP) — Officials in Hawaii have approved a plan to reduce the number of tourists 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 are not happy, visitors will sense that and not have a good experience on the island,” Anderson said.

The agency’s president and CEO, John De Fries, said he doesn’t yet know what the tourism cap should be.

“I think the priority piece for us in getting to that answer is getting a handle on the illegal accommodations,” De Fries said. “We see that as No. 1. I’m encouraged by the fact that each of the counties is making this a bigger priority on each of their islands.”

The plan also calls for a “regenerative tourism” fee that supports environmental resources and allows the tourism agency more oversight of trails and other natural sites.

Additionally, the plan seeks to manage visitors’ use of cars as 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 rentals market grew, Hawaii had more than 10 million visitors in 2019 — a record that 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, according to preliminary visitor statistics jointly released Thursday by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Of those, 521,796 visitors arrived from the U.S. West, exceeding the June 2019 count of 452,958 visitors by more than 15%. Some 247,382 visitors came to Hawaii from the U.S. East in June, 3% more than the 240,223 visitors who came to Hawaii in June 2019.

“It feels like there is more tourism here than pre-COVID. It’s been that way since a couple of weeks ago when everything started opening up, and that is with consideration that our Asian market has not even returned,” said Choon James, a North Shore real estate broker who ran for Honolulu mayor in 2020.

“The island has not grown any bigger. The beaches have not grown any bigger,” James said. “Tourists are smart enough that they no longer enjoy Waikiki and congested areas. They are actually frequenting local beaches and sprawling into local areas.”

But some believe this surge in tourism is a bubble that could soon burst.

“There are two main reasons for this surge. One is pent-up demand and euphoria in believing things are getting better with COVID,” said Keith Vieira, principal of KV & Associates, Hospitality Consulting. “The other is there is really no place else to go. Once the rest of the world opens up, the current gains won’t be sustainable.”