A tourism impact fee has been up for discussion in the islands for some time now. However, despite strong public support, the Hawaii 2023 Green Fee fails to make it out of the Legislature. Such is how things work in Hawaii.
Tourism is the economic lifeblood of Hawaii. Yet, the ever-increasing number of visitors, especially those venturing out into areas they previously didn’t, is having quite an impact on Hawaii’s environment and people. And this isn’t hyperbole; we have hard evidence of this thanks to the respite that the COVID-18 pandemic provided. Further, we know that tourists tend not to like other tourists, too, especially at highly trafficked sites. So what do we do? That’s where capacity controls and usage fees come into play. Yet, our officials can never seem to agree on how to implement them.
Hawaii 2023 Green Fee Fails
To be clear, Hawaii already has what you could consider to be green fees. Several state parks already have reservation systems and entry fees. However, a universal green fee to access any and all state parks, trails, forests, etc., has been under discussion even before the pandemic. However, things really began gaining traction once residents got a taste of how things used to be during the lockdowns. Yet, despite strong public and political support, the Hawaii 2023 green fee fails once again.
In its latest iteration of Hawaii’s Green Fee, Senate Bill 304 would establish a $50 visitor impact fee to obtain a license to visit state parks, forests, hiking trails, and other natural resources. Some lawmakers said the fee wasn’t enough, while some industry people worry that any fee will drive away visitors. Unfortunately, the bill didn’t even reach the floor for a vote, having gotten stuck in conference.
For his part, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who played a role in implementing Hanauma Bay’s user fee when he was a City Council Member, supports a user impact fee, even if he’s now the President/CEO of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association. However, he believes the fee keeps failing because there are always too many versions with too many variations being proposed each session.
Gone… For Now
Though the Hawaii 2023 Green Fee fails to pass during the current legislative session, it isn’t going away. State Senator Lorraine Inouye, who herself is a veteran of Hawaii’s visitor industry, promised to study what went wrong this year and introduce another iteration next session. That said, she is one of them who found the fee too small.
Hawaii 2023 Green Fee Fails, Final Thoughts
Personally, I’m supportive of a user impact fee for reasons I’ve already covered in my recent post about the increasing rate of visitor rescues from Oahu’s popular hikes. And I don’t think Hawaii will see a catastrophic drop in visitor arrivals because of it. Instead, it’ll filter our visitors to those wanting to come to Hawaii to experience it responsibly. That’s the kind of visitor we want – not ones that just want to come to fill their Instagram and TikTok reels with imagery at the expense of our environment and people.
Again, even if Hawaii implements a user impact fee, we won’t be the first. Many other states already charge visitors to access their state lands, and the federal government has long charged entry fees for its parks. And Hawaii’s proposed one-time fee is still cheaper than what other states charge, so I really don’t see why people are getting all bent out of shape about it.