The Maui County Council has just enacted a controversial bill that will result in new Maui accommodations being halted for the next two years. That came as an override to the mayor’s prior veto and thus becomes law as Hawaii re-approaches record tourism numbers.
Mayor Victorino felt that Bill 148 would have unintended and far-reaching consequences (such as creating more illegal vacation rentals) and that it was done without adequate public input. He said yesterday, however, that “we need to move on and focus on the future of our people and our commitment to economic diversification and recovery from this crippling pandemic.” More importantly, he said, “we need to look beyond the hospitality industry and improve the balance in our economy through support for industries such as diversified agriculture, arts, technology, wellness, cultural education, and environmental restoration.”
We who live in Hawaii are always attracted to the idea of economic diversification. But when it comes to agriculture and technology, for example, for a multitude of reasons, those simply aren’t going to happen. Can the other areas mentioned, arts and wellness provide substantive alternative financial support for Maui’s economy?
Hawaii residents aren’t of one mind regarding the future of island tourism, with thoughts ranging from curtailing tourism by any means to embracing it as the state’s lifeblood. Beyond tourism, the reality today is that there are limited other jobs in Hawaii, other than government and healthcare.
More than half of Maui’s real property-based income is derived from visitor accommodations.
In that regard, the Council’s chair said that “nobody has come up with one single idea on how to replace revenues from the visitor industry… We need to be careful on how we scale back on that industry before we have something to replace it with.”
This new moratorium will remain in place for either two years or “until legislation implementing appropriate recommendations… establish a transient accommodation limit categorized by type and by community plan area.”
Bill 148 was intended to counteract the rampant growth of visitor accommodations and the concomitant explosion of tourism on Maui. The new halt doesn’t impact existing Maui accommodations or ones already in process which have received final approval.
In addition, there are nearly 7,500 vacation rentals on Maui within apartment zoning areas, that could be phased out. That, however, remains undecided at this time.
Maui isn’t alone.
In a tangentially related development, we reported recently that Kauai has partnered with both Airbnb and VRBO to bring a halt to non-compliant rentals. Those rental giants now prohibit listings that don’t feature the officially approved transient vacation rental status. In addition, they are reporting to the county all rentals that are present on their websites for compliance validation.
In Honolulu, the planning commission has approved measures to ensure the elimination of vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods. The goal is to convert those to residential long-term rentals.
We look forward to your input.