Hawaii Visitor Fees: Perception, Value And An Egregious Example

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.

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189 thoughts on “Hawaii Visitor Fees: Perception, Value And An Egregious Example”

  1. We noticed during our 12 visits on Maui, Kauai, The Big Island, and Oahu we were charged more for the groceries we purchased than the local residents.During our most recent month stay, the grocery store clerk saw us so often she asked if we had our res card. We saw others using their cards and their purchase totals were significantly lowered. It felt discriminatory, like our dollars aren’t worth as much as their dollars. We felt like foreigners in a State that is part of the USA. Everyone should be told upfront you will pay more for everything if you are not a resident.

    1. The easy answer to this is to get yourself a card, it takes two minutes. Not sure where you’re from but they are ubiquitous in California.

    2. I’ve lived on Hawaii Island 20 years. Yes, I do get a break on my golf rounds. Why? Because the club knows that local golfers are regulars 12 months out of the year, not just the vacation months.

      But, I have never had to show a residence card in restaurants, grocery stores, clothing stores, etc. Costco card, the only exception. And I highly doubt that Costco charges more to non-residents.

      Unless your post is a spoof to ignite criticism of something that doesn’t exist, I am at a loss to decipher your complaint.


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