The subject of Hawaii visitor fees couldn’t be more at the forefront of travelers minds. It has those of us who live here thinking about it as well. While it may be just fine to levy fees and it isn’t unusual for other states to charge more for visitors than for residents (see list below), something’s up here that warrants a deeper look.
Hawaii is implementing two-tier fee systems, wherein visitors are charged more than residents for the same service. The state, other states, and other places around the world are also doing so, in part as a way of developing more sustainable tourism and in theory protecting natural resources. Too many visitors have trampled iconic places in Hawaii, including the north shore of Kauai, and Oahu’s Hanauma Bay and Diamond Head State Park, just to name a few.
We were somehow blindsided by one fee, below, that we didn’t recall, albeit not new. We’ve been to this place many times before, when traveling around Oahu. What a Hawaii resident had to say about the fee, was eye-opening.
Parking Fee at Nuuanu Pali State Wayside Viewpoint on Oahu: $7.50
The state says, “Impressive view of windward Oʻahu from brink of pali (cliffs) at 1200 feet elevation in the Koolau Range.” The overlook is always a nice stop for great views on a clear day. It’s a historic lookout, where the Battle of Nuuanu took place in 1795.
A comment we just received started this in motion: “I went to the Pali look out and saw that there is a 7 dollar and 50 cent charge for parking to go look at a view for ten minutes if that. Being a local this really had me upset. No, as a local I didn’t have to pay. But it angers me to see how the visitors are being taken advantage of; this is outrageous. Pro park is running this parking fee why? And where does this money go? So not cool. This alone would turn me off coming to visit Hawaii.” In 2011, the state started charging visitors a $3 fee to park at the lookout. Residents don’t pay.
The State Parks Assistant Administrator once said, “it’s a pretty lucrative source of income at no expense to the state.” They say that over the decades, the parks’ share of state money has dwindled and that these fees are necessary to maintain the parks.
Restrooms not included.
The state never installed restrooms or running water at the overlook. For years it was a huge problem with not even any porta-potties. Those were subsequently installed, in part using income from visitor parking fees.
Hawaii visitor fees: it’s all about perception and value.
The acceptance of paying Hawaii visitor fees is tied to both empowerment and worth. The act of paying a visitor fee represents an individual’s contribution to the upkeep of a collectively valued resource, which conceptually is more easily endorsed by most people. Visitor fees need to be tied to demonstrably enhancing the quality of the place. Hawaii visitors deserve to be educated about and feel valued for their participation.
It isn’t just about the money. As new visitor fees are implemented, and not just in Hawaii, some care needs to be taken to not create a them vs. us feeling. That doesn’t lead to anything good in a visitor-based economy. Demonstrating the value and importance associated with these fees is of paramount importance to their acceptance everywhere.
17 other states with out-of-state visitor fees.
Other states are moving in the same direction as Hawaii. They don’t seem to make the news to the same degree, however, and the fees we found are largely related to camping, whereas in Hawaii they apply to across a broader range of activities as well.
Examples of other states levying out of state visitor surcharges are Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho , Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
ln some of these states, visitors can pay 2 to 3 times what residents pay. In other places, the surcharge is smaller.
Is there a better way to make Hawaii visitor fees work?
Your input on this increasingly important topic is valued.