How Many Tourists Are Too Many?
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Several months into the pandemic, Maui residents woke up to find this photograph on the front page of our morning paper, The Maui News. These were all rental cars with no tourists to drive them.
That photo made the point that most of us had finally and some of us grudgingly accepted as fact: There are too many tourists coming here.
Back in the 1970s, the former mayor of Honolulu, Frank Fasi, proposed a tax on hotel rooms. The fallout was entirely predictable: hotel industry went bonkers.
The mayor wants to kill the goose that’s laying all these golden eggs, they cried. And they recruited their own politicians to run against Frank.
Mayor Fasi survived—he served as mayor for a total of 22 years—in large measure because he was right. He pointed out what was already obvious to most of the electorate—that big heavy tour buses, literally hundreds of them, were damaging our roads . . . that rental cars were causing traffic congestion and tourists were crowding our beaches and, more often than you would think, needing to be rescued by government employee lifeguards.
Full time residents have known for years that our island economy is far too dependent on tourism.
COVID changed all that because the tourists suddenly stopped coming. And here on Maui, we woke up one morning to be greeted by that photo of all those rental cars with no renters.
Maui’s full-time resident population is about 400,000. In 2019, the last full year before the pandemic struck, about 3 million people visited our island. That’s almost eight visitors for each local resident. That’s too much.
The trouble is, it’s all we’ve got.