A plan to reduce the number of visitors to Oahu was released for public viewing on Wednesday, giving residents a chance to weigh in on the proposal and its goals.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) approved the Oahu Destination Management Action Plan in late July in response to fears that the island and its sensitive nature are being overrun by tourists.
“We appreciate the Oahu residents who participated in the process and passionately contributed their diverse viewpoints, discussed various tourism-related challenges in the neighborhoods, and helped set forth an actionable plan that is necessary for the community’s well being,” HTA President and CEO John De Fries told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “It’s about continued collaboration and moving together to malama this cherished place and each other.”
At the time of its passage, De Fries told the Star-Advertiser he doesn’t have a target number in mind for visitors.
“But we’re going to figure this out,” he said. “I think the priority piece for us in getting to that answer is getting a handle on the illegal accommodations. We see that as number one. I’m encouraged by the fact that each of the counties is making this a bigger priority on each of the islands.”
In 2019, Hawaii surpassed 10 million visitors for the first time. Since the state began welcoming back tourists in recent months in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of arrivals is exceeding that pace.
And state officials note the record number of arrivals is happening without visitors from Asia and other locations still under COVID restrictions. That face is alarming to Choon James, an Oahu real estate broker.
“The island has not grown any bigger. The beaches have not grown any bigger,” James told the Star-Advertiser. “Tourists are smart enough that they no longer enjoy Waikiki and congested areas. They are actually frequenting local beaches and sprawling into local areas.”
The Oahu Destination Management Plan approved in July by the HTA was developed over a 5-month period with input from the city and county of Honolulu. Its goal is “managing the number of visitor accommodations, and exploring changes to land use, zoning and airport policies.”
The HTA hopes the steps outlined in the plan will reduce the rush of tourists while improving the experience for those who do come.
“We believe that if residents are not happy, visitors will sense that and not have a good experience on the island,” said HTA planning director Caroline Anderson.
The plan seeks to manage visitors’ use of cars and to add a tourism fee to support conservation and natural resources.
Not everybody is on board with the idea to limit visits. Keith Vieria, who works in hospital consulting, said the huge number of visitors now is because of a bubble in the market.
“There are two main reasons for this surge,” Vieria explained. “One is pent-up demand and euphoria in believing things are getting better with COVID,” he said. “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.”