Japanese visitors to Hawaii remain at a fraction of normal, and mainland arrivals are down too after the Maui fire. Will Hawaii Governor Josh Green help lure either back? He was betting on Japan first and traveled with a large entourage this week to the Far East. This is his second outreach trip to Japan since he was inaugurated. There are many obstacles in front of him, however, considering the Yen is weak compared to the US dollar. Japanese are not traveling very much internationally now and are visiting domestically instead to help their economy.
After meeting with Japan Airlines and ANA Airlines yesterday, the message back to Hawaii was not to expect an increase in Japanese visitors for two more years. Compared to pre-pandemic travel, Japanese visitors are now down up to 50%. Looking at the week of November 5, the past three years, in 2019, it was close to 6,000 Japanese visitors in that week compared to this year with 3,000 visitors, which is still better than the 1,500 recorded in 2022. While visiting Hawaii is now more expensive for the Japanese, the state has in its arsenal a faster clearance procedure at Honolulu Airport to reduce the current processing wait times.
Should Hawaii look closer to home for its loyal visitors?
Considering all this and the fact that mainland travel to Hawaii remains depressed after the Maui fire, we wonder if the state should be looking at its home turf first, just like the Japanese are asked to do when it comes to their own travel.
While Green’s visit is focused on luring Japanese visitors to return to Hawaii, it also includes giving thanks for Japan’s $2 million contribution made to Hawaii following the Maui fire in August and promoting Hawaii-made merch at the Aloha Market at Tokyo Haneda Airport, which sells island products.
Green advocates for international tourists, fewer low-end visitors, and “any” $50 fee.
Governor Green has long been an advocate for the voice of reduced domestic tourism in Hawaii. His 2022 campaign (still online) indicated that his top administration priorities include “reducing the total number of tourists” and the implementation of a “$50 impact fee for visitors.”
The former has happened of its own accord, while the latter has thus far failed to happen but is by no means gone entirely. Watch for a new $50 fee to return to the state legislature in 2024. Green also aspires to reduce the number of “low-end” Hawaii visitors. It seems, however, that his goals in relation, at least to Japanese visitors, may be entirely different.
Post Lahaina fire Climate Impact Fee replaces prior $50 visitor fee concept.
Since the Maui fires, Green advocated for a revised visitor fee, now coined a Climate Impact Fee. He said that the $50 fee would now be used to benefit firefighting. “We’re going to need money to make sure we have more firefighters, that we have more equipment, and we have more money for investigations like this.”
Everyone still wonders where Hawaii’s highest accommodation tax in the country goes.
The most expensive tax on hotels and vacation rentals in the U.S. is paid by visitors and Hawaii residents who travel. It isn’t apparent how the money is used, especially given the painfully lacking tourism infrastructure, for example, from Hawaii parks to airports, public roads to restrooms.
Will Climate Impact Fee be a further turnoff for mainland visitors and Japanese?
Should any bill eventually be enacted and deemed legal, there might also be permits or licenses obtainable online or at physical locations statewide. Originally thought to be charged via airlines and accommodation providers, that is no longer likely. In any event, enforcement would pose a considerable challenge. The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) has advocated for such fees and, as the enforcer, would need to staff up. Even then, questions about the feasibility of enforcement remain unanswered. If the fee is still based solely on the use of state-designated resources, even distinguishing between the county and Hawaii state parks, especially for visitors unfamiliar with our local geography, presents a logistical challenge. The uncertainty further extends to the legal aspects of implementing any such fees.
Furthermore, skepticism abounds regarding whether money collected would ultimately support intended purposes or instead funnel into the state’s general fund. The state’s track record in earmarking of funds for special uses remains concerning.