With visitor numbers growing rapidly nationwide – and likely to surge near pre-pandemic levels starting Thursday, when Hawaii’s travel restrictions on fully vaccinated arrivals from the U.S. mainland are relaxed – carry some of the recent calls for managed tourism a touch of despair.
That was the case on Tuesday when Maui Mayor Mike Victorino said he wanted a tourist “break” or a slowdown in visitor traffic, which has led to airport congestion and burdens for businesses still below pandemic capacity limits and other restrictions work.
Victorino’s appeal to airline executives to voluntarily reduce the airlift to Kahului Airport is understandable – but it is likely and should not result in a slowdown as airlines aim to take a more full recovery from tourism at the height of the pandemic . Last year around 22,560 visitors flew to Hawaii throughout July. For a dramatic comparison: on Monday alone, the state’s airports checked around 26,630 visitors.
Despite today’s overwhelming flood of arrivals, Hawaii has a good chance of successfully handling this summer’s tourism surge if it quickly adopts a collaborative triage approach involving both the public and private sectors, starting at our airports. Local and state government staff should now work with airlines as well as ground transportation companies to ensure better protocols are in place to avoid excessively long queues.
Outside the airports, many tourists will continue to find it difficult to get the service they may have been used to, in part due to difficulties some companies have in scaling up. For example, starting July 8th, restaurants can increase capacity to 75%. But unless the state required distance between tables falls below 6 feet, many facilities will not be able to increase capacity significantly.
To reduce visitor “friction points”, the tourism industry and related interests should seek creative short-term solutions that could include simplifying take-away for visitors and setting up traffic patrols with community volunteers at the visitor attractions that the most visitors attract crowds. Patience and the aloha spirit will be needed over the next few months as the pent-up demand feeds our economy.
In the long term, Hawaii must drive the implementation of the state’s Destination Management plan, which emphasizes sustainability based on the pillars of natural resources and Hawaiian culture along with community and brand marketing.
According to a bill passed by Honolulu City Council, the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve moved towards a better balance this week by more than doubling the price of entry for tourists to $ 25. All income goes into maintenance, education and research. In addition, the reserve now allows up to 1,600 visitors a day – a welcome break from 3,000 visitors before the pandemic.
A study is underway in Kauai that will consider charging tourist vehicles to popular parks. Such measures can serve as a mechanism to generate tourism revenue to reduce the industry’s impact on infrastructure and natural resources.
At the beginning of the weekend of July 4th, cautious Hawaii is the only state that has not yet declared “fully reopened” status after a 16-month hiatus and a statewide death toll of more than 600,000. In trend-setting California and New York, the return to most common routines began last month when at least 70% of the adult population had received at least one dose of vaccine. But the coronavirus threat lingers, and with the delta variant rising, Hawaii has wisely raised the bar – 70% of all residents must be fully vaccinated before all travel and other restrictions are lifted here.
Even so, the restrictions haven’t dampened the demand for Hawaii travel. And that could soon push us to hit arrival numbers in some groupings that rival the record numbers of 2019. Now is the time to prepare – and prepare for some busy days.