LIHU‘E — A recent study conducted by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism showed that residents’ views of tourism have improved slightly in the past year. But government officials say there’s still more work to be done.
The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority released the results of the fall 2022 study on Feb. 8. Among several statements put forward to residents, 67 percent agreed that tourism has a “favorable” impact.
Additionally, 57 percent agreed that tourism brings more benefits than problems, up from 49 percent in fall 2021; 37 percent of residents believed tourism has a “mostly positive impact” on themselves and their families, up from 33 percent in spring 2021.
“What’s significant is it’s not eroding further, and the incremental improvement is appreciated,” said John De Fries, president and CEO of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. “But what it says to me is we have so much more work to do in meeting the expectations of local residents.”
According to the bi-annual study, resident sentiment toward tourism declined significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic; 78 percent of residents had rated tourism’s impact as favorable in 2019, but that figure fell to 62 percent in fall 2021.
De Fries attributed the relatively rapid decline in positivity rates to the pandemic, when many local residents experienced a sudden absence of tourists in their communities.
“I think that particular event or series of events was almost euphoric for us locally because there was no traffic congestion. The beaches were not crowded,” he said.
He noted that 2019 had been a record year for tourism in the state, with nearly 10.4 million visitor arrivals. By July 2020, that number had gone down to zero.
“In some sense in July of 2020, we felt like we got our islands back. But what we were also contending with was the complete economic collapse that had to be remedied,” said De Fries.
Hawai‘i seems to have made a near-complete economic recovery from the pandemic. The approximately 19.2 million total visitor arrivals in 2022 represent an 89 percent recovery from 2019. And even with fewer tourists, total visitor spending went up 8.9 percent to $19.29 billion in 2022 from $17.72 billion in 2019.
De Fries believes local residents appreciate the economic benefit of tourism, but issues surrounding parking, traffic and other inconveniences create resentment.
De Fries said there is a need for more systems to be implemented to operate tourism on a large scale, including reservation systems and user fee requirements to alleviate some of the biggest tourist hotspots.
He added that Hanalei, which was once “being overrun,” is now a model for managing tourism in Hawai‘i.
“Parking, traffic fees, those kinds of systems that were not in place before, have helped manage that particular area on the island,” he said.
According to a chart provided in the study, 10 percent of Kaua‘i residents completely agreed (voted 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale) with the statement that “tourism is being better managed on my island.” A total of 27 percent agreed less strongly, voting between 6 to 8 on the scale. The average across all the islands was slightly higher, at 15 percent and 29 percent, respectively.
In 2022, there were 1,345,265 visitors to Kaua‘i, representing a 98.2 percent recovery from 1,370,029 visitors in 2019. Total visitor spending climbed 14.3 percent to $2.18 billion in 2022 from $1.91 billion in 2019.
“That gets us back to pre-pandemic levels,” said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau.
But she explained that having too many visitors can create issues.
“I think it’s the numbers of people. It’s the infrastructure. There’s one road for the island of Kaua‘i that has to handle all the numbers of people coming here, and the people living here,” Kanoho said.
“So it’s a matter of really balancing the infrastructure, the impacts, the ability to get to work, and the ability for the residents to go to a beach. There are all these different important things that play into a destination.”
Kanoho said the county is working to further “balance tourism in the community” through its Destination Management Action Plan (DMAP), which consists of a 21-member committee representing residents, visitors and other sectors.
Kanoho said DMAP has been an important way to work with residents, the state and the county to improve tourism on the island.
Emma Grunwald, reporter, can be reached 808-245-0441 or email@example.com.
Source: The Garden Island