Controversial $50 Hawaii Visitor Fee Plan Returns

It was just a few days ago that a Hawaii Visitor and Convention Bureau (HVCB) representative said that the idea of a universal visitor fee is “dead on arrival,” per the state legislature. But now, the lead candidate for governor says otherwise.

The universal fee had been the #1 goal of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA).

A universal visitor fee has been discussed as far back as 1970 when it was first discussed as a tax system to offset visitors’ impact with a fee. HVCB would have been at the implementation end of that fee had their contract not been unceremoniously yanked and at least temporarily handed over to the newcomer Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA).

Not to stray too far, a vast dispute is just beginning between Hawaii’s marketing partners. The governor has held up even the HTA’s funding. In the meantime, HTA said it would temporarily extend its contract with HVCB. The reason is that it gives three months to “provide adequate time to resolve the current protest” between all parties—that per Hawaii’s Tourism Director Mike McCartney.

A universal Hawaii visitor fee proposal surfaces again.

Since HVCB announced that the universal Hawaii visitor fee idea was dead, we’ve now heard very much to the contrary. Frontrunner gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Josh Green said in an interview that he would like to implement a “climate impact fee” of $50 per person.

That fee would apply to all Hawaii visitors on arrival in the state. He said such a fee would raise an additional $500+ million annually. His suggested fee is aligned with estimates of how much money is needed to help reduce environmental issues resulting from tourism.

It isn’t clear how the state would allocate those funds or whether they could make their way to the general fund. The more we think about this, the more questions it raises.

Is a universal Hawaii visitor fee even legal?

Such a fee could be legally construed as interfering with inter-state travel and would discriminate against Hawaii visitors in a way that could conflict with laws and the Constitution. Other states that have implemented green fees enforce them on residents and visitors to avoid this conundrum.

Perhaps there is some other way to construe it. We don’t know. Let us know your thoughts on this, please!

The New Oahu destination management plan calls for a “regenerative tourism fee.”

The county fee “directly supports programs to regenerate Hawaii’s resources, protect natural resources, and address unfunded conservation liabilities.” When the plan was published, the HTA was still evaluating the nature of the fee, who should pay it, and how it would be enforced. We’re left wondering how there can even be both local and state green fees.

It’s not only Oahu that is planning on some form of “green fee.” Two bills in last year’s legislature sought to levy a state green fee of $20 per guest for each visitor accommodation. In that case, the money raised was to support environmental goals. Those, however, died in committee.

Other iconic destinations have implemented green fees.

Countries with green fees include the Pacific island country of Palau, which has a $100 visitor fee. The Galapagos Islands also has a $100 fee which is due to rise and is collected by the airlines. But those are foreign countries, not a state.

Should both visitors and residents pay?

Many believe it is better to implement a universal fee for environmental remediation that both visitors and residents pay. It’s worth noting that when locals travel and stay at accommodations in Hawaii, they pay as much as visitors in terms of taxes. However, it’s controversial, and in a 20-year-old case, a federal court ruling sided with Honolulu concerning the legality of imposing fees at Hanauma Bay on visitors only.

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143 thoughts on “Controversial $50 Hawaii Visitor Fee Plan Returns”

  1. The type of visitor fee being discussed is repugnant and clearly unconstitutional. Nonetheless, I guarantee you if Hawaii moves ahead with this I will seek a ballot initiative in my state to charge every visitor from Hawaii an amount that would be sufficient to reimburse every traveler from my state. If you think it’s fair to charge us to visit you then it should be fair for us to charge you to get our money back.

    1. A perfect idea to combat the “grab as much as you can” political ideas in Hawaii. No fees or taxation will ever be enough to satisfy the waste, fraud and govt inefficiencies in the Islands.

  2. Aloha, this is our island, other countries and charging different ways and hows for purpose that it needs in their county. Japan charges ¥3000 yen for “airport tax” They paused it at time but brought it back now that Handea is in full swing. Check other countries I’m sure there might be something like this along the line.
    Thank you and aloha to our islands!

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