Hawaii At A Turning Point: Finding Balance Amidst Tourism Turmoil

Hawaii’s Tourism Dilemma: Finding Balance Amidst Turmoil

A comment from our frequent reader, Joerg, got us thinking today when he said, “Hawaii is stuck between a rock and a hard place. They need the tourists because their economy is tourism based, but the tourists are destroying the place. That’s a tough problem to fix, and the fix is going to make some people unhappy no matter what it is.”

Amidst the challenges that seemed to arise following the pandemic, Hawaii still can’t get a handle on what comes next. While nobody thinks that tourism alone is the answer, the governor seems to believe that Japanese visitors will improve things. And, as Joerg pointed out, no one seems happy with what is and is not happening.

There’s no doubt that Hawaii’s time spent without tourism during Covid, now behind us, presented an enticing view of life in Hawaii without its bustling travel industry. Just the physical transformation without visitors was remarkable everywhere, from Hanauma Bay to Hana and Kauai’s Napali Coast to Maui’s Mt. Haleakala.

We, too, recall what it was like without the crowds of tourists when Hawaii underwent a stark metamorphosis to something akin to a time gone by. Residents here had the streets, parks, and ocean to themselves (the beaches were off-limits for sunbathing). It was something we hadn’t quite known as long as Hawaii’s been overshadowed by tourism, except for a taste during the prior decade’s economic downturn and briefly after 9-11.

Hawaii At The Crossroads With Tourism

Some things had to change in Hawaii.

While the return of tourists was inevitable and essential to Hawaii’s economic survival, it came with an underlying recognition that Hawaii’s tourism dynamics truly are unsustainable.

Despite all decades-long efforts to re-envision Hawaii as a more diversified place, with less reliance on tourism, it never happened. Tourism kept growing, and the alternative experiments faded away.

For the foreseeable future, travel will monopolize Hawaii, leaving the state vulnerable in a myriad of ways to the negative impacts of over-tourism and the potential for economic shocks associated with this reliance.

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There have long been endeavors to pivot from Hawaii tourism.

Those have all largely faltered, even with the recognition that overreliance will continue to adversely impact the environment, life quality in the islands, and our economy.

You may recall initiatives from past Hawaii governors Ariyoshi and Waihee, who sought to empower tourism alternatives. Ariyoshi was governor from 1974 to 1986 and recognized the danger of heavy reliance on travel, advocating for diversification. His focus was on technology, agriculture, and renewable energy as alternatives. Waihee was then governor from 1986 to 1994. He, too, pursued initiatives in support of agriculture, technology, and education.

But their efforts and others yielded disappointing results. Ventures into technology and biotech, which seemingly have great potential despite Hawaii’s distance from the mainland, failed to gain traction for reasons including poor planning and multiple other limitations.

Among the reasons for failures has been Hawaii’s geographical isolation, which has negatively impacted the ability to attract and retain companies and workers. That is compounded by Hawaii’s high cost of living, which is a barrier to all new industries. Hawaii’s limited workforce also means a small pool of skilled talent. Efforts to develop a local workforce through education and training have remained challenged across industries.

At the same time as Hawaii faces such challenges, there remains an economic focus on tourism. That largely still overshadows potential for other areas and is an easier, readily available solution. Nevertheless, the current Hawaii tourism crisis allows Hawaii to reevaluate its socio-economic trajectory again.

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Hawaii needs to be a healthy place for both visitors and residents.

There is growing consensus on the necessity for Hawaii to exist as a desirable tourist destination and a healthy and viable place to live and work.

Hawaii tourism of the future is being envisioned.

While the problems with Hawaii tourism are, as expected, fraught with issues and diverse opinions, the prior paradigm of Hawaii tourism is slowly being painfully transformed. It comes from initiatives many visitors don’t relate to, like reservations at Hanauma State Park or parking reservations at Kee Beach.

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The love-it-to-death era ended.

The bygone decades from the 1960s until Covid won’t be returning, as much as some of us would like. That time, book-ended by jet travel and the pandemic, is a legacy we will remember for years.

Essentially well-meaning tourists have loved Hawaii to death. You see that on all the islands, at all the most famous hot spots as they are now to be called, including the road to Hana, North Shore Kauai, and others where over-tourism took a huge toll on the environment and the people of Hawaii.

Tourism changes have become inevitable, and they will continue.

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You can still have your Hawaii vacation.

Don’t worry; visitors will always be welcome. At the same time, similarly to other iconic tourist destinations, systems and strategies are starting to come into place to manage traffic visitor flow amid the unending global travel boom.

The visitor growth to visitor value transition will become stronger.

Not only will Hawaii, out of necessity, start to find ways to diversify, but it will also find ways for the tourism industry, residents, and visitors to work together better. That appears to be the single most lacking focus right now. And that lack of awareness may, in part, be what brings Governor Green to Japan rather than to the mainland to focus on returning Hawaii visitors, who typically make up about two-thirds of visitors here.

Hawaii is at a place where it can be a leader among destinations, creating new travel paradigms. At the same time, Hawaii lacks the resources, financial wherewithal, and communications needed to be a leader.

Hawaii Regenerative Tourism

The University of Hawaii says: if you can’t reduce tourism, make it regenerative.

Regenerative tourism here includes a focus on actively improving Hawaii’s natural and cultural environment and enhancing our communities’ well-being.

Alongside reducing visitor footprint, UH suggests enhancing tourist attractiveness, wherein it seeks ways of reducing negative feelings by residents towards visitors. Hawaii has been negligent in eliminating the perception of it being anti-tourist, on point with UH’s thinking.

We welcome your input!

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35 thoughts on “Hawaii’s Tourism Dilemma: Finding Balance Amidst Turmoil”

  1. I read the comments here and it saddens me to see the perception of people of Hawaii, once called paradise…the sidewalks and beaches are now paved with homeless and all their trash.
    Politicians are determined to kill STR which give tourists and locals, alternatives. Corruption runs high in Hawaii and has been for many years.If they kill the STR,where people are able to find still, a compromise, Hawaii will Not be the luxury destination our mayor and governor have completed to be…

  2. As some of Hawaii’s residents continue their quest for zero tourism by insisting that Tourists are not wanted or needed, I noticed the new construction on Oahu is on schedule. With the soon to be STR’S Elimination, the newly constructed units will be ready to take up the slack, and then some. Why new construction when there was no guarantee that STR’S would be shuttered, or was there? Imagine the properties that will be sold for cheap, to be purchased by needy people, families. That’s not going to happen. If you believe that, I have a bridge to the mainland for sale, reasonable! Every Politician must have a fishing license, many Hawaiians have swallowed the hook, line and sinker. I say “Blame the Voters, it’s Their Fault”.

  3. The hope that the Japanese tourist market will save our economy
    is pretty much a pipe dream.
    Hawaii is no longer an inexpensive vacation destination. Does anyone
    in our state government understand how the value of the Yen has weakened against the Dollar?
    On a recent trip to Taiwan I was amazed to see people in Taiwan making pleasure and shopping trips to Japan because things were less expensive there.
    Just the reverse of a decade ago when Japanese would flock to Taiwan for golfing and other leisure activities.
    The Japanese are not the answer to our tourism woes,

  4. We have been coming yo Hawaii for about 20 years. We enjoy learning about the culture, history, and making friends with the local people. It is about respect, not entitlement! Enjoy the beauty and leave it that way!

  5. Often it’s the person’s attitude that determines welcome/non-welcome. We have many Hawaiian (and Hawaiian-haole) friends when we come visit and we try to be polite and respect the local traditions. In turn, we are also treated well. Yes, we’ve run into bad actors – particularly out in the surf lineup, but that happens here in California also. I was disgusted to see European visitors throw their drinking bottles down into the sewer drain on Kuhio Ave.; and also, one street over, the locals regularly throw out trash and furniture on a back street (Edward) instead of paying for trash pickup. So the problem is not fully with visitors, but more the individuals who just don’t care. Oh, and the homeless tend to trash the streets also.

  6. Hawaii is on the decline people feel ripped off coming to Hawaii…they are now going other places that don’t rip them off…I have been coming for many decades and have no desire to ever go back It’s a sick feeling when you’re being price gouged… And everyone knows Hawaii is way way overpriced…Aloha

  7. Hawaiians have to take responsibility for the damage to their land. Thousands of homeless people littering the island. It doesn’t help that the politicians are more worried about bashing tourists rather than taking responsibility. The amount of abandoned cars I noticed this year in Oahu is a joke. They have nothing to do with tourists. Hawaii will soon be broke.

    1. Hi Carmelo! Hawaii is technically Bankrupt already and it has nothing to do with these past 6 months. Every imaginable free be and handout coupled with the no bid hand shake contracts with high price tags before the over runs. The shoddy work that doesn’t hold up, countless other examples. I am waiting to hear that all of the Politicians eat surf and turf 3 times a day on the state credit card. Hawaiians voted for all of this and more, Politicians blame Tourism and STR’S, Residents eat out of the Politicians hand. About how it works in the State of Hawaii!


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