People are traveling again now that COVID-19 vaccination rates are rising and pandemic restrictions are easing. The problem for the Hawaiian island of Maui, however, is that “over-tourism” has caused congested roads, crowded beaches, and packed restaurants, according to its mayor.
To help remedy the situation, Maui Mayor Mike Victorino said at a news conference that he wants “a pause.”
“We don’t have the authority to say ‘Stop,’ but we’re asking the powers that be to help us,” Victorino said, a Honolulu Star-Advertiser article reports. That means he has been meeting with airline executives to discuss potentially reducing seat limits on flights arriving at Maui’s Kahului Airport.
“I’ve talked to a number of airlines,” Victorino said. “Many of them were very understanding,” he continued, although he also admitted a few “thought that airlift was not something we should be discussing.”
Tourism Ramped Up Quickly
Hawaii has had some of the nation’s most stringent COVID-19 public health restrictions. Indeed, the state still hasn’t fully reopened — in part due to its remote location and limited hospitals.
Then again, tourists are arriving in near-record numbers. For example, in May, 629,681 visitors traveled to Hawaii, according to the Hawaiian Tourism Authority, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. Although that number was down 26 percent from the 847,396 visitors who traveled to Hawaii in May 2019, it must be pointed out that May 2019 was a record year for tourism.
The problem, though, is that the people and businesses of Maui “lacked sufficient time to prepare for the sudden, large influx of tourism, even as health restrictions remain in place,” Brian Perry, a spokesman for the mayor, told Hawaii News Now.
Consequently, capacity constraints and shortages in supplies and workers have caused issues as businesses welcome tourists back to the island. Restaurants, in particular, are feeling the strain — especially since they are still operating at 75 percent capacity.
“We’re under more pressure than we’ve been in pre-COVID, that’s for damn sure,” Jack Starr, who manages Kimo’s in Lahaina, says in an Associated Press article. He went on to add that right now, the restaurant’s reservation waitlist is booked almost two months in advance due to capacity limits and the requirement for tables to be spaced six feet apart.
A Strained Infrastructure
The high number of tourists doesn’t just strain restaurants. At his news conference, Victorino also explained that illegal parking is now a critical issue along the picturesque Hana Highway, which offers views of both the ocean and valleys and waterfalls on the other. As tourists pull over to take pictures, they block traffic. Victorino says there are now concerns that the illegal parking could prevent rescue vehicles from traveling through the area in the event of an emergency.
Maui County Councilmember Kelly King told Hawaii News Now that the issue also affects residents.
“Just going to the beach parks is a huge issue for locals,” King said. “It’s really affecting the quality of life for our residents.”
Resolving The Problem
So far, it doesn’t appear seat limits will be changing on flights traveling to Maui anytime soon.
“As Hawaii’s hometown airline, we both live and work here, and are conscious of the strain on our infrastructure, natural resources, and communities posed by a rebound in visitor arrivals — especially when businesses still face operational restrictions associated with COVID-19,” Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Alex Da Silva said in a statement, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. “But we also know that visitors are the engine of our economic recovery and future diversification.”
In the meantime, Mayor Victorino said several plans are being discussed to address traffic congestion and illegal parking on the island. One example is to put up more “No Parking” signs along the Hana Highway in hopes it will both reduce illegal parking and also minimize the time police resources must spend enforcing parking violations.
Know Before You Go
Trans-Pacific travelers who use the state’s Safe Travels program may bypass Hawaii’s mandatory 10-day quarantine by testing negative on a pre-departure COVID-19 test no earlier than 72 hours prior to the last leg of departure to Maui. All trans-Pacific travelers participating in the Safe Travels program also will be subject to an additional rapid COVID-19 test upon arrival at Kahului Airport.
All of the details about traveling to Hawaii as well as inter-county travel requirements may be found here.