Popular Tourist Destination Hawaii Plans Fees For Ecotourism Crush

New Delhi: Repair of coral reefs after stranded boats. Protecting native forest trees from the wrath of a killer fungus. Patrol waters for swimmers harassing dolphins and turtles. Caring for Hawaii’s unique natural environment takes time, people and money. Now Hawaii wants tourists to help pay for it, especially as growing numbers are traveling to the islands to enjoy the island’s beauty, with some enticed by the dramatic scenes seen on social media.

All I want to do, honestly, is hold passengers accountable and have the ability to help pay for the impact they’re having, Democratic Gov. Josh Green said earlier this year. ?We get between nine and 10 million visitors a year (but) we only have 1.4 million people living here. Those 10 million passengers should help us maintain our environment. Hawaii lawmakers are considering legislation that would require tourists to pay for a one-year license or pass to visit the state’s parks and trails. They’re still debating how much they’ll charge.

The governor had campaigned last year on the platform of charging all tourists a US$50 fee to enter the state. Legislators feel this would violate US constitutional protections for free travel and have promoted their parks and trails approach instead. Either of these policies would be the first of its kind for any US state.

Hawaii’s leaders are following the example of other tourism hotspots that have imposed similar fees or taxes, such as Venice, Italy and Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. The Pacific island nation of Palau, for example, charges international travelers USD 100 to help manage a vast marine sanctuary and promote ecotourism.

State Rep. Sean Quinlan, a Democrat who chairs the House tourism committee, said changing passenger patterns are one reason behind the push for Hawaii. Golf rounds per visitor per day have declined by 30 percent over the past decade while hiking has increased by 50 percent, he said. People are also looking for ever-obscure sites that they saw someone post on social media. He said that the state does not have money to manage all these places.

It’s not like it was 20 years ago when you bring your family along and you probably hit one or two of the famous beaches and you go to see Pearl Harbor. And that’s the extent of it, Quinlan said. These days it’s like, well, you know, I saw this post on Instagram and it’s a beautiful rope swing, a coconut tree.’ He said that all these places where there were no visitors now have visitors.

Most state parks and trails are currently free. Some of the most popular already charge a fee, such as Diamond Head State Monument, which has a trail leading from the floor of a 300,000-year-old volcanic crater to its summit. It receives 1 million visitors every year and costs USD 5 for each passenger. A bill currently before the State House would require non-residents age 15 and older to visit forests, parks, trails or other natural areas on state land? Annual license to purchase online or through mobile app. Violators will pay a civil fine, although the fine will not be imposed during the five-year education and transition period.

Exemptions will be given to residents with an air pilot license or other state identification. The Senate passed a version of the measure setting a US$50 fee. But the House Finance Committee amended it last week to remove the dollar amount. Chair Kyle Yamashita, a Democrat, said the bill was a work in progress. Don Chang, chairman of the State Board of Land and Natural Resources, told the committee that Hawaii’s beaches are open to the public, so people probably won’t be cited there and that such details still need to be worked out.

Rep. Dee Morikawa, a Democrat on the committee, recommended that states create a list of places that would require a license. Green has indicated he is flexible about where the fee is placed and is willing to support the Legislature’s approach. Proponents say there is no other place in the US that levies a similar fee on visitors. The closest equivalent might be the USD 34.50 tax Alaska fee for each cruise ship passenger.

Hawaii’s conservation needs are enormous. Invasive pests are attacking the state’s forests, including a fungal disease that is killing the ohia, a tree unique to Hawaii that makes up the largest portion of the canopy in native wet forests. Some conservation actions respond directly to tourism. Harassment of wildlife such as dolphins, turtles and Hawaiian monk seals is a recurring problem. Climbers may unknowingly bring invasive species into the wild on their shoes. Snorkelers and boats trample coral, adding to the pressure on reefs already battling invasive algae and coral bleaching.

A 2019 report by Conservation International, a non-profit environmental organization, estimated that total federal, state, county and private spending on conservation in Hawaii was US$535 million, but the need was US$886 million. Recently on the Diamond Head Trail, some visitors said the fee matters most to those who come to Hawaii frequently or who may stay for several weeks. Some said that USD 50 was too high, especially for those who view nature walks as a low-cost activity.

For a large family that wants to have the experience with the kids, that would be a lot of money,? said Sarah Tripp, who was traveling from Marquette, Michigan, to Hawaii with her husband and two of their three children. Katrina Cain, an visiting English teacher from Puerto Rico, said she thought the fee would sting some people but was fine as long as it was well advertised.

He said that if tourists are informed about it, they will be fine with it. If that was the surprising USD 50 fee, it would be a pretty nasty surprise. Legislation states that revenue from visitor impact fees will go into a special fund, which is managed by the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Carissa Cabrera, project manager for Hawaii Green Fee, a coalition of nonprofit groups supporting the measure, said it would ensure the state has money for conservation regardless of budget swings.
Mufi Hanneman, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, which represents hotels, supports the bill, but said Hawaii must carefully monitor how the money is used.
?The last thing you want to see are toilets that haven’t been fixed, sidewalks that haven’t been repaved or what have you? And year after year it remains the same and people are paying the fees,? Hahnemann said.