Hawaii Tourism Swings Wildly Again As Visitor Spend Up 67%

Hawaii, New York, Lauterbrunnen: Can’t Live With Or Without Tourists

Tourists in Hawaii and elsewhere are a double-edged sword; sometimes hard to live with and hard to live without. That’s true everywhere in the world you go. This fall in Europe we became tourists instead of locals and experienced firsthand the negative feelings that some residents had with overcrowding.

Balancing tourists in Hawaii and globally is a nuanced challenge.

Tourists both represent financial vitality, here and in other places where it is the major source of economic well being. But tourists are also problematic. And they can stick out, straying from local customs. As we reported this week, Hawaii with declining tourism, isn’t in the best of financially healthy situations.

Hawaii isn’t unlike New York, Venice or Lauterbrunnen.

We continue to read how New York has an ever increasing anti-tourism, anti-outsider sentiment. Those who are vocal and not in favor of more tourists express concerns about their impact on the qualify of life for residents, among other issues.

When BOH editors traveled to iconic Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland this summer to see what over-tourism in Europe looks like, and to contrast it with Hawaii, it was quite shocking. The success of tourism in one of Switzerland’s most iconic destinations is making visitors unwelcome.

In Lauterbrunnen, a small town of 800 residents, there are 6,000 or more tourists daily in summer and fall to enjoy the spectacular beauty. We stayed at an Airbnb there and the host said the entire village had never seen anything like it before and was frankly ill-prepared. Going to the town’s one grocery store proved the point; it was a zoo.

In Venice, over-tourism means 20 million visitors annually in a city that has just 55K residents. It is damaging the fragile aged infrastructure, inhibiting residents from their daily activities, and also makes for a less than satisfactory visitor experience.

Hawaii tourists, helping or hurting?

Yes, tourists in Hawaii stand out. Yes, you are spotted easily. The same can be said in these other places we mentioned too. And tourists here and elsewhere are nonetheless largely respectful, heeding warnings and not causing environmental damage, trespassing, or harming endangered species. We’re all at some point just tourists, whether in Las Vegas, New York, Europe or Hawaii.

Vacation rentals take the brunt of global anti-visitor sentiment.

Hawaii, for one, has long sought to control and reduce vacation rentals. That’s true in many places, since they’re seen as gobbling up local rentals and introducing tourists to non-tourism areas, just for starters. In New York, Law 18 just went into effect that seeks to nearly eliminate vacation rentals. With its enactment, short-term rentals plunged this fall by 85%, per Inside Airbnb.

Are any vacations politically correct?

Comments we received related to this include:

“Yes, we respect tourists, and the economy needs them for the sake of locals’ livelihood. But what is happening is too many tourists visiting the Island just act as if they are at a theme Park. The Islands cannot handle the extreme disrespect given to the land and the local people. It is just a sign of the world we live in now. But on a small Island, everything is escalated.”

“Tourism has contributed to the standard of living dropping drastically (or even being priced out of paradise) for so many due to the price increases on every level, especially purchasing a home and renting.”

We are all vacation seekers.

Most people on vacation simply want a break from life. They may well care about Hawaii (or wherever they are) visiting, but are still primarily here to enjoy things like weather, the ocean, culture, other aspects of our beautiful state, as well as other vacation destinations.

When Hawaii residents travel.

When we travel to Las Vegas for example, do we consider how Indigenous issues are impacting those who live here? Nevada’s infrastructure, both economic and political, is largely a product of expropriation of prior Native American lands. That while many Native American homes there still have have no indoor plumbing.

Tourism issues are multifaceted and complicated.

First, there is growing discontent with uncontrolled tourism in Hawaii, as elsewhere, which isn’t really new, and has been ongoing for years. That comes in spite of the slightly slower tourism period Hawaii is currently experiencing. This situation reached a peak after Covid, with a whipsaw rebound following an equally sudden drop in world tourism that caused a rapid shift in perspectives.

Hawaii residents, like others, still retain diverse views on tourism. And tourism affects everyone’s life here directly or indirectly. There’s obvious concern about reducing tourism too much, especially given there is no obvious financial replacement coming.

Seeking travel with minimal impact.

Low-impact tourism is travel and activities directly beneficial to local communities, and respecting widlife, people and culture. It’s an equally valid concept in Hawaii as it is in Lauterbrunnen, New York, or Venice.

This is a new paradigm we’re all learning together.

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17 thoughts on “Hawaii, New York, Lauterbrunnen: Can’t Live With Or Without Tourists”

  1. No doubt, Maui residents have diverse views on tourism. We’ve enjoyed visiting Maui for over thirty years. We want to do what we can to help Maui heal. If you want to give back to the people of Maui, please spend 4-6 hours volunteering one day out of your vacation to a worthy cause. My suggestion is to spend this time volunteering at the Maul Humane Society. The Maui Humane Society is still overwhelmed with dogs and cats from the Maui fires.

    Please reach out to:
    Sarah Vanstralen
    Volunteer Coordinator | Maui Humane Society
    Office: (808) 877-3680 x 224
    PO Box 1047, Puunene, HI 96784

  2. I never thought I would see Hawaii and Lauterbrunnen compared as they are worlds apart. We stayed in Lauterbrunnen last summer and about 7 years ago and there was a difference in the numbers. The locals have always been welcoming to us and friendly and it’s a great place to stay for moving around the area. Love walking around the cows and hearing the individual bells-it’s a beautiful area with so much room to roam and enjoy the gorgeous scenery. We used to spend a month in the winter on Kauai but not sure if/when we will return. Never did the “touristy” things there so maybe unique in that approach.

  3. Hawaii has year round tourism unlike most of the world.
    I experience sincere hospitality when I travel to a coastal town in southern Itaky where residents co exist in small spaces with travelers from all over the world
    Their season is intense for 6 months-,peak season is shared with visitors. Hawaii has no slow season,despite what you read ,people working in The Hospitality Industry make a lot of money compared to similiar visitor destinations

  4. Include me in that I am one that am here to enjoy things like weather, the ocean, culture, other aspects of our beautiful state, as well as other vacation destinations. I have not been to the islands since 2014 and experienced changing Maui. I am in for a surprise as I hear so many disrespectable posts. I see too many posts from local businesses, and condo owners telling us to be respectable & overtip.This is non classy and poor marketing. The major resorts start their advertising my apologizing to the locals before continuing on with advertising rentals. I just think Maui Chamber of Commerce, should train these companies, to advertise professionally. BTW I am respectable and tip big, but dont tell me how much to tip or be of respect!

  5. Agree with others on the balance in the article.
    I’ve been wondering about the messaging in the marketing. While there’s a good faith effort in it to encourage respectful tourism, it can strike the observer as lecturing. I would love to see messaging that highlights the respect native Hawaiians have for the land and their culture, creating the impression that this isn’t just a place to go surfing and golfing. Hawaii is part of the US, but it has the feel of a foreign country in many respects– and I think it is one of its best attributes. When I visited the Alamo, the docents behaved with absolute reverence for the place. As a result, we tourists mirrored that behavior. I’d like to see that on a larger scale in Hawaii.

    1. Totally agree with you. Tourists are more likely to mirror how the Hawaiians, and even the other residents, treat the islands, and that’s the best way to get the message across.

  6. I couldn’t agree more with the statement that too many tourists visiting the Island just act as if they are at a theme Park. The Islands cannot and should not have to handle the extreme disrespect given to the land and the local people.

    1. That is what I actually struggle with… I feel as though the majority of visitors don’t treat/view Hawaii as a theme park, it seems to me that this is just a perception of locals and when the local government charges visitors only for access to public beaches, etc. it creates an environment where it feels as though visitors are being treated like they are visiting a theme park and that is what the local government is turning into with those policies.

      1. I couldn’t agree with you more. The islands perpetuate the feeling of a theme park. Go to any luau, and you’ll get a full dose of Disneyland.

        What is “treating the island like a theme park”, anyway? I’m a little confused as to what that actually means. What behaviors are not acceptable when walking through a theme park? It’s just visitors enjoying the sights.

  7. As I have said, previously, on this blog, Hawaii cannot restrict tourists, renting apartments and homes unless the government is willing to increase the number of hotels available in underserved areas, I’m talking about the Windward coast of Oahu I have family living there & grandchildren, but this may be my last trip thisFebruary, ‘cause I had to either stay in Honolulu or travel daily a 1/2 hour without traffic, and an hour with each way in order to see my grandchildren or rent for 30 days Not Fair! the Windward coast also has a JT army/AFbase and civilians and military visit for a few days, but there are no hotels! We who have family are not tourists! HI is keeping us from our family unless we are rich & can take 30 days off!😈

    1. Windward Oahu is a residential community so you either stay with family or you stay in Waikiki which is zoned for tourism but don’t expect the zoning regulations to change

      1. When it is not feasible to stay with the family you are visiting (ie too small a home, or your family works from home as mine does) you need a nice place to stay. Why should family members be penalized when we are not destroying your town? And cor that matter, why should property owners who sometimes depend upon the rental income from a cottage on their property be penalized when their renters are not the people who are destroying your lovely town?

  8. One of the best articles BOH has written, balanced and informative with the perspectives of locals and visitors alike.

    I really appreciate the perspective you provided regarding Vegas and the impact tourism has, this is truly what it looks like for tourists to treat a place like Disney and the impact on indigenous people.

    I can’t help but think Hawaiians should shift their frustration from tourists to the corporations that cater to them and may not reinvest in the local economy beyond relatively low paying jobs.

  9. Interesting you had to go all the way to Switzerland to find heavy tourist impact on a small town.

    I live in Talkeetna, Alaska, a community of about 1,000 people. Our tourist season is mid-May to mid-September. In that short time, we get over 50,000 visitors, many arriving in buses that are here for only a few hours. The impact is incredible and must be seen to believe.

  10. Good article, as you said it’s everywhere. Read an article recently about the San Juan islands in WA. Same as here, they wanted to install a small fee and of course some were incensed. But they are grappling with overcrowding too. Lahaina is going to be difficult ….fingers crossed greed on one side and narrow minded thinking on the other doesn’t sabotage the efforts. No tourism, no recovery, but it needs to be done right.

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