Maui Overtourism

We are standing at a crossroad. Behind us, a county overrun by tourists, heavily congested roads and beaches, over-taxed resources, and sewage and sunscreen destroying our reefs. Ahead, there are two paths to choose from. One that continues from the path behind us, riddled with unfettered tourism; and the other, the gift of a fresh start, a cleared path calling us home to the Maui County we’ve longed for. The coronavirus lifted a veil revealing what cannot be unseen: hills of parked rental cars, wide-open roads, uncrowded beaches, and nature in its natural condition.

In the last few years, we have experienced record-breaking tourist numbers with no plateau in sight. Before now, the cost of industry externalities was difficult to quantify. We never knew what 22,000 rental cars looked like in one place, because they’ve always been dispersed across our roads, or what having a break from processing millions of gallons of extra sewage, trash, and food waste meant. Until now, we have been at the mercy of the tourism industry’s tightly woven narrative that, “We cannot survive without them, and their impact on our residents’ quality of life is worth it.”

I believe the narrative we’ve been force-fed for decades is not accurate. Even without the 30,000 tourists that arrived at the same time last year, the County Council was able to balance the budget, taking care of our residents’ immediate needs, investing in food security and more stable industries, and ensuring the health and safety of our community through core services.

No one is saying we should completely do away with tourism; it will always be part of our economy. However, we must flatten the curve of tourism and control its spread to prevent it from attaining its unsustainable pre-pandemic levels.

For years, the Maui Visitors Bureau (“MVB”) received 4 million from the County and over $7 million from the State’s Hawaii Tourism Authority. Starting in 2018, the Council began asking MVB to manage and educate tourists. Now we know that request was misguided, since these are two diametrically opposing missions. The entity that is working to attract as many tourists as possible cannot also be the entity that limits that number.

Recently, a video, “How the Coronavirus Will Force Destinations to Stop Overtourism,” by Doug Langsky affirmed our concerns and provided ideas for solutions. All over the world, popular destinations have begged their governments to establish policies that will protect both quality of life for residents and the tourism industry itself. Some governments have responded and developed brilliant systems that we can use as models. 

Mr. Langsky’s presentations help us visualize what a shift could look like, starting with protecting quality of life for locals. The Maui Island Plan was a good start establishing a 3:1 resident to tourist ratio countywide. However, this ratio has been disregarded since 2016 and tourists don’t regulate themselves; therefore I suggest each area should set their own limit. A good example being Haleakalā for sunrise, and now Hana.

Since the shutdown, a permit is required to enter Hana. I propose that this permitting process be continued, and duplicated for other rural areas. This will help mitigate the overtourism problems we have experienced: hundreds of rental cars parking illegally to snap pictures with no regard for safety each day, bumper-to bumper traffic, thousands of tourists trespassing on private property, with some requiring tax-payer funded helicopters to save them. A tourism management organization can assist us to maintain this kind of balance, using timed ticket entry and other tools. We now know how to do it, and we must not go backwards.

I’m excited to announce I’ve already started working with community leaders to create a Tourism Management Organization, and I look forward to working with anyone with ideas for moving us toward a better future for Maui County. We’ve never had the opportunity to measure the truth of our observations without an industry master. We deserve better. There is a reason we are here at this crossroads right now. I believe it is to take that path calling us home.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, I fully agree. I live on Big Island and, truthfully, many of us feel the same. It’s great not having so many tourists here for the reasons you mention. The ocean is cleaner, the roads are way less crowded and everyone exudes so much aloha. I would love to see Hawai’i as a state come up with policies that mitigate the effects of tourism in our islands. It’s long overdue. Furthermore, I strongly believe that we need to diversify our economy and not rely so much on tourism. It’s time for us to move in a much more self-sufficient direction. Thank you for this piece.

  2. My thought exactly I’m really happy to know that something will be done to prevent it from happening again and please save our reefs it’s a must. Anything I could volunteer for please let me know.uch Mahalo

  3. This morning I was listening to the radio and a young man called in and said that Hawaii should close down for three to four months every year and clean up and take care of our land. The other months would be the time for the tourist to come and visit.
    I think that’s an excellent idea. During the closed months is when all businesses can clean up and make sure everything is clear and clean. Especially with Covid 19. This is a great idea and I think we’ll be able to survive and keep our Hawaii, Hawaii.

  4. Thank you for your efforts.
    Build a solar powered Monorail from the airport to Wailea, Ma’alaea, and Ka’anapali with stops along the way. Tourists would love it, can leisure go their way, cutting back on many thousands of cars, and leaving locals to go about their business unimpeded.
    Help finance it with marijuana money, with use only while on the island. Process is already in place at the airport for restricting agriculture from leaving the island.
    One thing the shutdown is teaching us is how much Tourism we do NOT need.
    Mahalo!

    • Although an interesting idea i am sorry but the people that come here to visit want to drive not ride a monorail, which would cost a ridiculous amount to build. And marijuana products/Production is not a good direction… now hemp I can get behind because it has multiple benefits and can employ many people across many disciplines.

  5. The ideas put forward are sensible, ecological and well thought out. Mahalo Keani for your leadership for the People and land of Hawaii

  6. As for the article… well said. I really like the idea of a permit/pass to go to places to help reduce the impact of traveling. Along with trying to mitigate tourism impacts we need to find a way to make life livable here financially speaking. The average income here compared to the cost of living has an ever growing gap. If you then consider the cost of owning a home or property the gap widens even more. This is travesty of epic proportions. I just read an article mentioning over 50% of the locals move off the islands to a more affordable place and in many cases struggle to return. The average cost of a home not condo/contel should be 25-30% of your income. This translates to our average home prices should be in the 200 – 350,000 range. Homes should only be available for purchase to people who have a Hawaii state driver’s license and pay taxes here OR create a tax structure that makes it VERY expensive to own if you live elsewhere. Then take that tax and use it to incentivize locals purchasing homes. Also farm home lot communities need to be pushed… so that we are able to have room to grow our own food and the time. That is if the land/homes were more affordable. Just some thoughts I have gathered from various conversations.

  7. I myself having been ohana to the islands for over 25 years. I visit annually….I am still amazed as I walk into the ABC stores and still see unfriendly sunscreen being sold in Hawaii last year……STOP selling it there it would be a Big help. I was so sad to see this….outlaw it. It’s killing our planet!! Yes reliable public transportation….your buses break down alot…I have family there and we all know this to be true, so time for a monorail for sure….

  8. I think these are all great points, but many people in our islands depend on tourism. Myself included. I agree that tourism management needs to happen and that our natural resources needs to be kept up and taken care of. HTA has been trying to figure this out for a few years and has not been successful. As a girl born and raised here, it’s often frustrating driving home in the buku pile traffic, and also disheartening when we see the beaches and reefs overrun by tourists. But how are you going to manage tourism? What are some of your initiatives that you would like to propose? Also, is the county regulating AirBnB’s, VRBOs and private properties that are left unaccounted for? Yes, there are many hotels that have come up, but VRBO and AirBnB has helped to increase our tourism ten fold. And also, if tourism gets cut, where are people going to go for jobs? Operational jobs will be cut significantly, so will there be employment initiatives to be sure that our people will have guaranteed incomes?

    In addition to all of this, I would suggest finding a way to keep local housing in local hands. Is there a way to set parameters for this? I think that subdivisions should be built to give locals a first chance at a home. Not only that, but create restrictions on turning it into a “short term rental.”

  9. Thank you for starting this coalition, These issues mentioned above, weigh heavily on my mind. I live on the west side, and the injection wells pollute the air and our ocean. It’s horrible, and unnecessary. If you need volunteers and/or support let me know.

  10. Yes, it is possible. There’s an Island called Fernando de Noronha in Brazil, it’s a Turtle Natural Reserve and to visit, you have to sign up in advance, pay a fee and attend educational classes – “don’t touch anything is the Turtle 101” sadly, a lot of tourists in Maui clearly still need those classes. Time Share industry will fight against any limitation island wide but Molokini is way over due to be regulated.. baby steps 👍

  11. There should be a toll for all rental cars going to Hana, automatically charge a fee when they drive past and all money goes back to the island

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