Kauai Joins Maui On Visitor Fees: Backlash + Where's The Money Going?

Kauai Joins Maui On Visitor Fees: Backlash + Where’s The Money Going?

According to Harvard Business Review, “It takes a unique kind of leadership to push against the natural human tendency to downplay and delay.” Now we have a mad dash to fix things in Hawaii with the increase in tourism.

In hundreds of comments the past few days, you’ve been most outspoken about your feelings on Hawaii’s latest plans for visitor fees. Not only that, many of you said that you want to see any fees reinvested directly into the islands’ infrastructure. At the same time, others are left wondering if they are really wanted here in Hawaii at all.

There’s no doubt that Hawaii is busier than we can ever recall, and no doubt July will break all prior records for tourism in the state. But this won’t go on forever, and how Hawaii handles its visitors now will play a big role in how the future unfolds.

Our unprecedented tourism boon is in large part because other places remain largely inaccessible. For example, to most of us, it is still just too complicated and changeable to travel to Europe, the Caribbean, and Mexico, which are important alternative destinations to Hawaii. As a result, pent-up demand is resulting in much higher than expected Hawaii visitor counts. And that will continue for now. Also, because Covid tests will no longer be required for fully vaccinated Hawaii visitors starting July 8, this can only be expected to get worse.

Hawaii had one year to get ready for this.

Hawaii spent a lot of Covid time discussing proposed changes to tourism and ways to create a more diverse economy. But in the end, little seems to have happened except that tourism rebounded faster and stronger than anyone ever imagined, largely leaving all of our heads on the ground spinning.

What’s happening on Maui?

As we wrote about in New Fees, Fines, And Systems Coming To Maui, the island is looking at numerous options. Those include visitor impact fees, new parking fines, and surcharges. That post has your interest and has already been read more than 100,000 times, with 200+ diverse comments.

Kauai seeks new visitor parking fees at beach parks.

It is being reported today that the county will spend $30K studying non-resident fees at county beach parks, among other things. However, it is unknown how they will determine residency since many visitors are now renting privately owned cars as Hawaii car rentals are sold out.

“We all know the impacts our parks are facing with the surge of tourism. This study will look at ways to better manage the parking situation of tourist vehicles while making it easier for residents to find parking at more popular destinations.” — Michael Dahilig, Kauai County Managing Director. Last year, the county passed Ordinance 1087, permitting it to impose parking fees on non-residents.

Parking fees and violation charges.

The Kauai ordinance states that fees derived from any new parking system are going to be in a special trust designated for parks and playgrounds within the local area of the park.

Being proposed in addition to whatever fees would be assessed are violation charges of $100 for a first offense and $500 for two or more offenses.

One blunder: Hanalei Blackpot Beach retains porta-potties amid new restroom debacle.

We recently updated our Guide to Hanalei Beach. With it, unfortunately, we mentioned that while “A park extension near Black Pot Beach recently took place, which includes a new grassy area and much improved and expanded parking…However, the new bathrooms are still not working, having been temporarily replaced with portable units.”

It has been two years now that the new and expensive movable bathrooms have been sitting there unused. In their place, the only restrooms at one of the most iconic beaches on the island (and often named one of the best beaches in the USA) are a small row of portable units, which we can personally report are sometimes in a state of disarray with doors falling off and worse.

Nearby the never-used new restrooms previously stood a sign proclaiming the park renovation was courtesy of Mayor Derek Kawakami. Two years later, the expensive new bathrooms still don’t work, but the signage has been removed.

The issue is that the movable new units, which were put in place to avoid other complicated FEMA beachfront restrictions, were never designed for such beach use, according to what the county told BOH. We haven’t heard another word on this for months, but suffice to say, the current situation remains unworkable.

Twenty excerpts from the recent comments on this subject.

We’ve had a great deal of input from readers, and of course we welcome yours. You can read all of the comments to date about Hawaii visitor fees.

Andy: I am a Hawaii resident, and I would hope that the fees would go to those areas directly impacted instead of some administration and regulation of the fees.

Kathleen: I am so disappointed by all the complaining and lumping ALL tourists together as being the “same”…Please consider that people are flocking to the Islands in record numbers because they miss a beautiful land that is also very special to them…Not ALL tourists disrespect the laws of the road and park wherever they choose! Not ALL tourists seem disinterested in the culture of Hawai’ian people. Not ALL tourists are bad drivers…

Mike: I take exception to your remark, “Yes, tourists are rude and disrespectful.” I visit Maui regularly, and I am neither. I do see, no doubt, such behavior from visitors, but for the most part, I see it from local residents towards visitors.

Bobby: I am all for a permit system if places are reaching capacity. The problem is that they charge big fees to tourists and make it free to locals. How is that equitable? I am starting to feel second class when traveling to Hawaii.

Charles: Wow. As travelers to Hawaii 30+ times, We may have reached the tipping point in our travel decision to visit Maui annually. All these potential fees may finally push us to abandon Maui and seek friendlier islands such as Kauai.

Mary: What you are seeing is the increase of travel after no one traveled for over a year… We were here 4 years ago and saw a few improvements in the road into Lahaina and a few others… we also went to Haleakala and paid our $30 fee, but we got to use it for 3 days; which only makes it $10 a day if used… Some fees do work, but if the funds are not put back into Maui tourism improvements to the airport, roads, etc, people will find other places to go for a lot less money.

Chris: A $100 impact fee will not change the tourist volume; it seems destined to just line someone’s pockets. If Hawaii is serious about limiting tourism’s impact, the number of visitor accommodation units (hotels or vacation rentals) needs to be hard-frozen at current numbers… Then build up the road and parking infrastructure to peacefully co-exist with that tourist volume. Most of the “impact of tourism” is really just insufficient transportation infrastructure.

Dot: Honestly, no one believes the impact fees will be used to safeguard the reefs, Hana Highway, etc. Where will that immense amount of money go? How would the State divvy up the money?

George: Please quit blaming the tourists! Each island county council has allowed and will be responsible for present and future negative tourism impacts. Tourism is not controlled by limiting car rentals, flights, or assorted impact fees. In the past and moving forward, each county approves vacation rental zones, new condominiums, and hotel space before the supporting infrastructure is in place.

Michael: Yes, tourists are rude and disrespectful. However, ultimately… the local government approved these massive resort projects to be built. They allowed Honua Kai, Marriot. Westin, whatever to build large (and fairly ugly) buildings. They allowed airlines to fly twin-aisle aircraft into an airport from across the country. Maui really reaped what it sowed, and it’s time to stop passing the blame buck on but look internally… With the approval of new Southwest flights and United’s 777s and 767s coming in from the East Coast, the damage has already been done.

David: The mayor of Kauai has stated this out loud. He wants high-end tourists, not coupon clippers.

Glenna:  It’s not just the state of Hawaii… There are many coastal areas, for example, in and around San Diego, where only locals can park with their neighborhood passes to minimize tourist congestion, and tourists must pay to park elsewhere. There is, it seems, always a tension between locals and tourists in those much-in-demand places that we all love, as well as parks and monuments that are in demand because they are so tremendous. We all want to be free to do whatever we want to do at little or no cost … but that just isn’t how things are going to work anymore. I’m hopeful that Hawaii will come up with some creative ways to protect its environment and the locals so that it can continue to be a wonderful, if expensive, destination for the rest of us.

Cate: While I definitely understand there may be a reason for some added fees, one issue is whether it would truly be utilized to protect resources from overuse and maintain infrastructure.

Jared: Millions and millions of tourists have come to Maui and paid billions and billions in hotel, rental car, food and beverage taxes–and very little of that money ever made its way into improving the Road to Hana–or any other tourist attraction on Maui.

Carol: I think the fees are a good idea IF the purpose is to maintain the integrity of the island. I’ve seen people and their children have no respect for the beauty that exists. It’s not Disneyland…

Irene: The real problem is too many cars… We see tourists move cones, steal no parking signs, drive down our driveways and private roads to turn around, trespass, litter, use our neighborhoods to relieve themselves and scream at us about “no aloha” when we ask them to move on… Perhaps our lawmakers could have it designated as a Unesco world site needing preservation so that you can limit the number of cars before traffic congestion causes a tragedy here. Maybe a hop-on, hop-off bus system for non-residents would also help.

Floresha: We visit Maui every year and stay in Kihei. One thing we would love to see is a trolley that goes up and down the length of Kihei Road. This would help greatly with traffic, reduce emissions and allow visitors to stay in Kihei without renting a car.

Gabrielle: And where will all this money go to? Who pockets these fees? Who keeps track of the books? Will residents achieve anything?

Peter: To attempt to curtail tourism without reasonable alternatives seems very unwise… It would be an improvement if booking systems such as Haena State Park allowed greater opportunity to book in shorter timeframes and provide a viable alternative to reach the destination if no parking is available. (i.e., the shuttle was not running).

Larry: Many Florida Counties, e.g., Collier, have installed parking pay stations at the Gulf beaches. Residents… are exempt; however, they must obtain their annual free parking pass… All others pay via credit card at the beach’s parking kiosk… The County religiously checks for violations.

Suzanne: I think an impact fee might be a good idea. However, taxes on resort areas are already extremely high. But if the county does collect fees from visitors, please use it to clean up the trash along the highways and byways. You have such a beautiful island here, but allowing people to dump cars and other trash along the highway makes your island look like a Third World country.

We welcome your comments!


76 thoughts on “Kauai Joins Maui On Visitor Fees: Backlash + Where’s The Money Going?”

  1. I think it’s important to require deep water and energy conservation from hotels,golf courses, and other tiuriism related facilities. Yes, it will cost the hotels and such more to initiate, but they will save valuable resources AND money in the long run. More electric transportation requirements for tourism would help both pollution and congestion. E-bikes, e-scooters, e- trikes, and SMALL EV requirements for rental fleets, powered by abundant Hawaiian SUNSHINE!!

  2. The real way to slow the tourism down is to either ban or perhaps place hefty fees on AIRBNB and VRBO rentals. The County never anticipated that so many people would be renting out a room in their home for tourists and extra income. That is a tremendous strain on the island. Hopefully come Labor day things will calm down around here. The people who are coming here and staying in hotels are supporting the workers who live here. Those who come to stay in an AirBNB are just cooking at home and not caring about the local worker.

    1. And, those staying in a Private Residence were not mandated to Quarantine for 10 days and could come and go as they wished! It’s also ironic that a couple with child traveling from the PNW connected in San Francisco, were test, they tested Positive and boarded United anyway without being challenged. From what I read, they were residence of Kauai, not sure what happened when they eventually got there!

  3. Hawaii has for the past 30 years been my favorite vacation spot. With all the additional entry and parking fees, along with propr reservations necessary, I’m done going to hawaii.

  4. We have come to Maui for over 20 years every January. We volunteer at the golf tournament. We’ve visited the other islands as well, Maui always being our favorite. We stay at condos, not the massive ones, but the smaller ones. We are very respectful people, we’ve never littered, left everything as pristine as we found it, in other words, we’re good tourists. We’ve eaten at your restaurants, purchased items at your stores, basically done our part to keep your economy going. The fees we pay at the condos have gone up considerably over the years, as has everything else. I understand the need for the tourist to help pay, but there are high taxes built into everything we pay for. The car rental prices are outrageous. I’m sure there are some rude visitors, every state has that, but you need to address your homeless issue. That isn’t the tourists fault. And the growing mounds of garbage they produce is getting disgusting. That is a local issue. After Covid, it’s become obvious that you depend upon the tourism. Don’t run them off, clean up your own backyard!

  5. I am so glad that I visited the islands in 2016. I have no desire to visit now since it appears Hawaii wants me to fund the fall out from a disastrous Covid 19 policy.

  6. Oahu just implemented a $25 fee for Hanauma Bay. I have been in the hospitality industry here in Hawaii for 35 years. I disagree with price gouging the tourists to balance the budget. I always put myself in the other person’s shoes. A family of 4 needs to fork over another $100 to go to Hanauma? Forget it! HTA, your tactics to limit visitors are working!

    1. Its all they know unfortunately. Hawaii could be so much more especially with their location, time zone, and english speaking residents and US rules and regulations. Where are the incentives to lure the tech folks? Who wouldn’t want to work from Hawaii? All I heard on youtube chat’s between the innovation people in Hawaii who btw were all retirement age, like me, was tax tourists at 40%. That was the only solution they ever have.

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