So the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development (OED) just released their new Maui County Tourism Industry Strategic Plan (TISP) for 2017-2026. It’s a 10-year plan that, at least on paper, is supposed to guide the visitor in the county.
“This strategic plan addresses the pillars of a healthy tourism economy that must be of benefit to local residents,” said Teena Rasmussen, OED Director, in a Nov. 2 County of Maui news release. “It also must offer authentic cultural experiences and honor our indigenous Hawaiian culture, protect and maintain a pristine environment both on the land and in the sea, require our infrastructure to be adequate and in good condition, and assure that our visitors receive excellent service and be immersed in the aloha spirit.”
These are high words, but it’s worth understanding a couple things. First, though the report–which is actually split into two separate volumes–notes that it drew from all the “stakeholders” in the county, organizations like the Maui Tomorrow Foundation–which has long advocated a wide variety of issues related to the county–had no idea it was coming out.
“We heard there might be a report,” said Maui Tomorrow Executive Director Albert Perez on Nov. 3, the day after the county released the report to the public. “But the fact that it’s come out is a surprise to me.”
Second, and more important, the report is clearly trying to be all things to all people. For instance, the report calls for more protection of marine resources like the delicate, dying coral reefs, as well as more visitors.
This is because the visitor industry here is not in good shape. As the report notes, though raw numbers of tourists coming to both Maui and Maui County are higher than ever (the report notes that visitors make up about 27 percent of Maui’s population on any given day), the amount of money these visitors spend is just “a little above that which was experienced before the Recession.”
To fix this, the report says we need to do what we can to bring more tourists–including expanding Kahului Airport so it can handle direct international flights.
“Higher-spending visitors from Asia and Oceania are unlikely to come to Maui in large numbers unless and until Kahului Airport can receive direct flights from these areas,” states the report. “Direct flights to Kahului Airport from core North American markets remain crucial. The number of seats to Kahului is at an all-time high, but there are still potential opportunities on the East Coast and other U.S. cities.”
For organizations like Maui Tomorrow, this is a huge problem.
“Right up front they’re calling for international flights,” said Perez. “We don’t have the infrastructure for the visitors we have right now. Our infrastructure hasn’t changed since 1990, when they first called for direct international flights.”
Of course, the report notes this, and says the visitor industry must do more to lobby for infrastructure improvements.
“The renewed post-Recession increases in visitor counts…–along with attendant resident population increases–have exacerbated longstanding community problems, such as overcrowded roads, lack of affordable housing, and reduction in the quality of life,” the report notes. “Particular sore points include extreme congestion on the Pali Highway (the single road between central and west Maui) and Pa`ia, which has only a single traffic light. A new Lahaina bypass on the Pali Highway appears only to have moved the main bottleneck down the road to Puamana. On both roads, traffic often backs up for several miles and can delay travelers at almost any time of the week for at least an hour, sometimes more. This not only irritates visitors and residents in general, but for visitor industry workers it also means longer commutes and effective lower wages due to travel costs and more time away from family.”
Look, all of this is linked together. Building up the island to handle more tourists means adding more residential and commercial development, which leads to effluent runoff that kills the coral reefs surrounding the island. Still, Perez did note at least one positive in the report.
“At least they’re talking about resource protection,” said Perez. “But they’re also talking about extending the runway. We’ll see.”
Go to Mauicounty.gov/OED for more information.
Photo of Ka`anapali Beach: Rick Obst/Flickr