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Now that Hawaii has lifted some restrictions and fully vaccinated travelers can even skip pre-travel testing, tourists from the mainland have descended upon the islands in volumes that are overwhelming infrastructure and causing residents to rise up in opposition.

With visitor arrivals on Maui already at pre-pandemic levels, airports operating over capacity and local businesses struggling to meet the sudden demand after many months of closure or limited operations, Mayor Mike Victorino recently made headlines by appealing to U.S. airlines to voluntarily limit passenger capacity to Hawaii. Maui also imposed a new tourism tax this month to help offset the impact of COVID-19 on devastated local economies.

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On Oahu, where the situation is much the same—with tourist buses and rented cars backing up traffic, flooding the beaches, swarming local hotspots, parking illegally and generally disrespecting the island’s prized natural environment—residents have had as much as they can stand.

“During the pandemic, people figured out how nice it was not to have so many tourists,” said K.C. Connors, a member of the activist Facebook group ‘Enough Tourists Already’.

What’s more, Hawaii hasn’t even fully reopened yet, as international arrivals are still restricted. If the islands are struggling to handle the current levels of overtourism, there are concerns about what will happen once Hawaii’s borders reopen to the world. “If Oahu is already filled to capacity at this stage of reopening, what’s going to happen when the international visitors come back?” Connors said.

To respond to such tourism challenges, the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), in partnership with the community and the City and County of Honolulu, has been developing the ‘Oahu Destination Management Action Plan’ (Oahu DMAP). Over about the past five months, the HTA has put together this plan, which outlines steps that the community, the visitor industry and other affected sectors believe must be put into action to improve Oahu’s tourism sector over the next three years. It is set to be submitted to an HTA board for a vote on July 29, with the expectation that the plan will be released to the public sometime in August.

HTA Planning Director Caroline Anderson said, “The public is demanding action, our residents are demanding action.” She noted that Oahu is the last to join in the DMAP planning process, while the other main islands have already completed their portions. “The concerns on Oahu were really similar to the other islands—that ‘there’s too many visitors’,” Anderson said.

Unfortunately, the state is unable to limit visitor arrivals, but Anderson said the HTA is trying to figure out what it and its partners can do to better manage tourist volumes, especially in hotspot areas.

“HTA, under its current leadership, understands we need to shift. The industry impacts our residents’ way of life, wellness and the sustainability of our future,” said Joe Ibarra, general manager of The Kahala Hotel & Resort, who is also a member of the Oahu DMAP steering community. “This is the turning point.”





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