Hawaii Bad Tourist Problems On The Brink: What Have We Learned?

Hawaii is clearly beginning what will become a huge transformation in its tourism approach, signaling the end of an era that for six decades was dominated by more hotels, visitors, and construction projects. The islands have long-faced challenges because of what happened, as seen in overtourism that impacts both the environment and the resident population.

As a U.S. state with open borders yet with limited infrastructure and questionable wherewithal, Hawaii remains hard-pressed to know exactly what to do about overtourism.

The shift toward a more sustainable and regenerative tourism model is underway.

Buzzwords, inspired by global trends, are seen in other iconic destinations like those below. These destinations have all focused on creating a more harmonious relationship between visitors and residents, emphasizing responsibility and shared benefits.

Last month, Hawaii Governor Green began tackling pressing issues that will significantly impact Hawaii visitors. One key proposal involves a potential moratorium on Maui vacation rentals by March, aiming to convert around 10% of the existing 27,000 short-term rental units into long-term rentals for Lahaina fire victims.

The governor is determined to implement his climate impact fee.

He is now proposing a $25 fee on hotel or short-term rental check-ins, that would generate $68 million annually for beach preservation and fire prevention. If that doesn’t pass, Green will move towards raising the 18% accommodation tax for hotels and vacation rentals even further.

The complex interplay of these proposals and others that will be forthcoming reflects the ongoing challenges in Hawaii’s visitor, economic, and housing landscapes.

Yesterday’s visitor growth plans have evolved into a visitor value model.

As much as visitors don’t want to hear it, the moves afoot do involve prioritizing quality experiences for both Hawaii visitors and residents over visitor growth. That equates to the high cost of Hawaii vacations persisting.

Efforts to retain and value repeat visitors, however, are still emphasized by some, recognizing their contribution to Hawaii’s tourism legacy. While Hawaii has long been blessed with a high rate of return visitors who require no marketing, it isn’t clear if that trend will continue.

As the islands navigate this journey of transformation, the goal is to embrace sustainable practices and improve the tourist experience while creating a more positive impact on Hawaii communities and the environment.

However, challenges such as the perception of anti-visitor sentiment, which in part stems from overtourism, remain on the agenda without clear-cut answers.

Hawaii doesn’t invest in tourism infrastructure.

There has been virtually nothing done to improve the basic infrastructure that is needed to support high-end, high-quality vacations. Lack of airport and road improvements and beach facilities are just a few of the most obvious examples of that which Hawaii sorely lacks. While rarely mentioned by state officials, this is a problem at odds with their desired high-value tourism model.

Overtourism isn’t Hawaii’s problem alone.

Some of the other iconic world destinations that are dealing with similar overtourism issues are places that Hawaii is watching. They include the following:

Palau.

The Problem: The 500-island nation in the Western Pacific and UNESCO World Heritage site attracts visitors seeking an idyllic tropical escape. But there isn’t enough Palau to go around. So now, their focus has turned to sustainability.

What’s being done: The country introduced the groundbreaking “Palau Pledge” as it faced the strain of an overwhelming surge in tourist numbers and its attempt to encourage responsible travel. Since then, many other global travel destinations have adopted similar approaches to managing overtourism and promoting ethical behavior among visitors. For years, every airline ticket into Palau has included a $100 “Pristine Paradise” green fee.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Problem: Over 21 million visitors in a city of fewer than one million residents.

What’s being done: Amsterdam is implementing new measures to preserve its identity and address visitor nuisances. Initiatives include banning cruise ships from the city center, discouraging certain demographics from coming and suggesting alternate, sustainable activities like cycling. Amsterdam’s goal, like Hawaii’s is finding a balance that ensures responsible tourism and benefits both locals and visitors.

Machu Picchu, Peru

The Problem: Over a million annual visitors causing damage to the UNESCO site.

What’s being done: Marked trails, capped daily entrants, and new nearby airport construction. Since 2019, Machu Picchu tourism has become more tightly regulated, and tourists must follow four circular paths on the Inca Trail.

Thailand’s Maya Bay

The Problem: Overcrowded beaches and islands are destroying the bay’s coral reef following years of boats coming in and anchoring.

What’s being done: Maya Bay in Thailand, once plagued by overtourism, witnessed a significant transformation after an environmental rejuvenation project. The bay was closed indefinitely in 2018 due to ecological degradation. It subsequently reopened with improved infrastructure and visitor management.

While closed, more than 30,000 coral pieces were replanted, resulting in revived marine life. Authorities have also implemented strict measures to limit daily visitor count as well as educational initiatives. The success at Maya Bay is considered a model for how to balance tourism and environmental preservation.

Prague, Czech Republic

The Problem: Impact on historic city center due to booming tourism.

What’s being done: “Putting Prague First” is the plan to manage tourism sustainably. Staying in traditional accommodations, avoiding short-term rentals, and traveling respectfully are recommended. Heavily tourism-reliant Prague has had visitors negatively impact residents’ quality of life.

The city’s Strategy for Sustainable Tourism aims to address these issues by balancing economic benefits with Prague’s strategic interests, emphasizing sustainability, residents’ well-being, and cultural preservation. The plan calls for a comprehensive approach involving various stakeholders, including Prague City Hall, City Districts, organizations, residents, and businesses, to maximize positive aspects and minimize the negatives associated with tourism.

Bhutan

The Problem: Low visitor numbers yet concerns about the environmental impact of tourism.

Solution: Bhutan reduced its daily “green” fee from $200 to $100, aiming to revitalize tourism, which is continuing to face challenges, including the fee. Bhutan previously raised its “Sustainable Development Fee” to $200 per night to offset carbon emissions generated by visitors. The government now hopes that the reduced fee, effective for the next four years, will help in generating employment, earning foreign exchange, and fostering overall economic growth.

Venice, Italy

The Problem: Overcrowding and environmental strain.

Solution: Ban on large cruise ships, ticketed timed entry experiment. Suggestions include avoiding popular spots and exploring alternative destinations like Burano and Caorle. Long-challenged by overtourism, tour groups in Venice will be restricted to 25 people, and the use of loudspeakers will be prohibited. Large cruise ships are being banned, and day visitors must obtain passes costing up to €10 per person. Failure to obtain a pass comes with up to a €300 fine. Overnight visitors don’t pay the daily fee as it is already calculated into lodging taxes and fees.

Note: Venice’s green fee is sounding very similar to what Gov. Green last proposed. These new fees are designed to help alleviate the strain of overtourism, but we aren’t clear on exactly how the money will be accounted for and appropriated.

Bali

The Problem: Behavioral issues, overcrowding, and traffic impacting local culture and environment.

Solution: Released “do’s and don’ts” about respect for local customs, behavior at religious sites, and acting responsibly. Bali proposes tourists go to less crowded areas like northern Bali (Buleleng and Karangasem), western Bali (Jembrana), and eastern Bali (Kelungkung). The aim is to diversify tourist options, helping alleviate overcrowding in Southern Bali. New traffic controls and other transport plans are coming to help ease traffic congestion that has long been bad. During the December holidays, five-hour traffic jams occurred heading to and from the airport.

Barcelona

The Problem: Strict licensing laws for short-term rentals, bans on smoking on beaches, and restrictions on night-time noise levels.

Solution: Barcelona has long grappled with overtourism but has now implemented measures to address the problem. The city recently reduced the number of cruise ships docking there from ten to seven. Barcelona also raised the tourist tax from €5.25 to €6.75 per night for guests staying in the best hotels. Suggestions for those heading to Barcelona include considering instead Valencia, another seaside town that’s well-renowned and hasn’t yet reached tourism saturation.

Please share your thoughts on Hawaii overtourism, its new high-value tourism model, and your future travel plans.

Leave a Comment

Comment policy:
* No profanity, rudeness, personal attacks, or bullying.
* Hawaii focused only. General comments won't be published.
* No links or UPPER CASE text. English please.
* No duplicate posts or using multiple names.
* Use a real first name, last initial.
* Comments edited/published/responded to at our discretion.
* Beat of Hawaii has no relationship with our commentors.
* 750 character limit.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

65 thoughts on “Hawaii Bad Tourist Problems On The Brink: What Have We Learned?”

  1. Thank you for this article! i am one w/naive ignorance W/tourism. Raised to nurture the lands, learn the history of people and places in the world, especially where I plan to travel. SO that is what I did and Hawaii was a huge long deep study. When I read rude Maui social media posts about visitors negatively impacting residents’ quality of life and all the behavioral issues, I just thought, no way. It is just the locals pushing us away. I have never witnessed it. MY sincere Apologies , as reading the above article, it appears to be world-wide. I am appalled that people do not raise children with love, having babies with no responsibilty. Please raise your kids with respect and education. Parents You Are Ruining This World!

    2
  2. My wife and I were married in Hawaii at Ft. Derussy and have returned 14 times since to enjoy the islands. We have been to the 4 major islands many times and like to stay for a month each time so we are not rushed. We were there this past June and July (2023) for what is likely our last trip there. We were stunned by the increase in prices at hotels, restaurants, trips and transfer fees since our last visit in 2021. It was obvious the locals did not want us there in many cases. We want to continue to travel but will likely find other places to spend our money in the future. Keep your islands, Hawaiians, and we will keep our money. Bet we’ll come out better. Aloha!

    4
  3. I don’t know how often this is noted: Hawaii supports a population of “N’ people with the economy it has….largely based on tourism. Right now, unlike a place like Singapore or many cities in the world, it has little else to export or ways to earn money. If the dollars coming in via tourism reduce, the number of people who could still earn a living here would become drastically lower, causing a large exodus of people, presumably to the mainland. One would imagine house values would reduce a lot too.. This vision may very well be desired by many, but would upset many others as well.

    Not a novel concept and it has happened all over the U.S. and other places before.

    5
  4. Hi guys — We stay in a condo in Kihei, so I have been interested in following the Charley Young Beach Cam. Last week, alarmingly, the surf was coming into the very back of the beach, hurtling over the rocks inland. Yesterday, I saw a story on Maui TV showing incredible erosion all up and down the shore and down into Wailea. It seems very serious. Yet, where is your coverage of that issue? “Beaches” are iconic. And the loss of beaches is even more important than airline issues…

  5. I agree with the article the infrastructure needs to addressed. The road to my business on the big island took literally decades to get repaved, cars were constantly getting damaged just driving down the road. When it was finally started last year, it has taken months to complete (still not done) and what they have done, they did not do a very good job. I think it is hard for tourists to care when residents, especially the government don’t seem to.

    9
  6. Having just returned and planning another trip in May. I will tell you IMHO Infrastructure is the buzzword they should be heeding! Broken water mains, potholed (foxholed?) streets, overgrown medians, missing signs, broken sidewalks, electrical issues, cracked overpasses, airport repairs, major tunnels being closed on an emergency basis…

    The list is pages long… Waikiki Has been cleaned up a bit, the Police Substation restroom now has an overnight security guard (seems to be anyway) and it’s obvious they had just done a sweep of the homeless folks who moved farther towards downtown but it was the fewest I’ve seen in Waiks for quite a while…

    Best Regards

    6
  7. I understand the issue with bad tourists! I’ve seen them and hope they face the consequences for their actions, no matter where they are! When my wife and I go somewhere, we spend a day volunteering somewhere-helping the locals. We like to eat and shop at locally owned places. I also feel that you must respect the local culture. Last time we were in Hawaii we volunteered and the person in charge clearly did not like outsiders and made a number of comments. When I look at current prices for fees and parking, to name a couple things, we have cancelled our upcoming trip and will go elsewhere. Hopefully someday tourists will be welcome again, but I don’t think that will be anytime soon.

    4
    1. Instead of complaining about tourists, welcome and encourage them to give a few hours or a day of volunteer time to a needy project, and make them well known at every hotel, timeshare, and rental, and make it easy to sign up for, so you don’t feel like you need a course in contract law to give of your time.

      As for fees, a very open and transparent accounting system must be in place so that everyone knows how much money was collected and exactly where it was spent. If this isn’t done, then there will be no trust.

      2
  8. Aloha, one of the best deals in Hawaii for lodging is timeshares. You can currently buy units on the resale market for way less than one week in an oceanfront resort. There are Amazing deals available.
    Mahalo Randy

    1
  9. I lived in Hawaii for 14 years, 6 years on Oahu and 8 years on Kauai. I went back for a visit in December and was sadden to see how much higher the cost was for everything, taxes and fees specifically directed at visitors, poor service because companies can’t find people that want to work, and how run down everything has gotten since Covid. It’s pretty obvious that Josh Green and the county Mayors don’t want tourists because they keep imposing more fees on visitors and taxes on visitors and owners of STRs.

    Green & the Mayor will get their wish, I’ll find somewhere closer to where I currently live to spend my disposable income, and where I will feel welcome by the locals. Aloha Hawaii. 🙁

    11
    1. We have traveled a lot the last few years world wide, Hawaii is not the only pricey place.
      In London last May I was shocked at prices! In Spain, Ireland. New Jersey and New York! Florida is bargain.
      We go to Hawaii every year , 1st time 1970,honeymoon there in 2974 and have been coming ever since! Very lucky!
      Where we live prices have escalated drastically! I live in the south!!!

Scroll to Top