Tourism: Too Much of a Good Thing?
By the end of this calendar year, best guess is that more than eight-and-a-half million people will have visited one or more of these islands. Traditionally, these malihini are welcomed, warmly and genuinely. But government officials and industry leaders are starting to wonder: How many more visitors can we accommodate?
Years ago, my former boss was Frank Fasi, the mayor of Honolulu. Early in his tenure, Frank proposed imposing a hotel room tax, claiming that the visitors were making use of our infrastructure without paying for it. From that moment on, the visitor industry vigorously opposed Frank every time he ran for re-election. A room tax, they said, would kill the goose that was laying all those golden eggs.
That was nonsense, of course. Frank was right. Tour buses and rental cars were causing traffic problems, not to mention wear and tear on our roads. Not to get too specific, but capacity at the sewage treatment plants had to be increased because of “contributions” from our visitors. As the visitor population increased, local government had to keep providing more cops, more firemen, more lifeguards, more EMTs. Locals were being crowded off the better beaches.
There was a story in the Maui News just a couple of days ago about a visitor (we don’t call them “tourists”) who climbed down a steep rocky slope to a lovely pool of water from a stream. . . and couldn’t climb out. A fire department helicopter had to be called to airlift the guy. Incidents like that occur almost daily.
The trouble is, it’s beautiful here. The weather is balmy, the locals are friendly, and tourists are relaxed. It’s easy to be lulled into careless behavior they would never think of back home. I have no idea what it costs the State of Hawaii and the several county governments to rescue visitors who get into trouble swimming and hiking, but it’s got to be a lot.
Frank finally got his room tax, by the way. And he was Mayor of Honolulu for 22 years.