There were 273,786 visitor arrivals to Maui during the month of August, an increase of 11.3 percent compared to last year. The data, compiled by the Hawaii Tourism Authority in its monthly visitor statistics report, was published on Sep. 26 – the same day that Mayor Michael Victorino held a press conference to endorse the recommendations of his fact-finding Tourism Group. Led by Office of the Mayor community liaison and former Maui Visitors Bureau executive director Terryl Vencl, the group was formed to address the impacts of rising visitor numbers.
“It’s not enough to set visitor arrival and spending records,” Mayor Victorino stated. “Now, we need to look at ways to respect our residents’ home and culture while maintaining the health of our visitor industry.” At the conference, the mayor stressed the need for communication and partnership with members of the visitor industry, at times citing the industry’s important role as our island’s main economic engine.
This business-friendly perspective was reflected in the Tourism Group’s composition, which included a majority of members from the industry. Four representatives from resorts participated, and other members came from the airport, Maui Chamber of Commerce, a rental car company, Maui Visitors Bureau, and the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association. Only two members of the group were selected to represent environment and cultural interests, and another two members represented Moloka‘i and Lana‘i.
The mayor endorsed the Tourism Group’s recommendations to (1) create a standing Tourism Advisory Committee, (2) enhance visitor education on topics such as safety, culture, environment, traffic, and illegal vacation rentals, (3) improve ground transportation with more busing options, (4) address environmental stewardship with watershed and runoff management, (5) partner with hotels to communicate safety, environmental, and cultural messages to visitors, (6) improve ocean safety with more lifeguards, safety tubes, and better enforcement of boater regulations, (7) address overcrowding at beaches and other locations by, among other things, prohibiting commercial activities on Sundays and holidays, and (8) manage visitor traffic and parking along Hana Highway with better signage and illegal parking enforcement.
Victorino said that he would work in partnership with the County Council, state legislators, and industry leaders to meet these objectives. Regarding a ban on commercial activity during Sundays and holidays, however, the mayor was hopeful that he could take executive action soon.
“I’m hoping within the next 60 days I can get that to go forward and make sure everybody’s comfortable with that, and make sure that whatever is done will be done for the people,” he said. “And when I say ‘people’ I’m not only talking about the residents, but the visitors as well.”
However, such a county-level ban has limitations, as the State Department of Land and Natural Resources has jurisdiction over the area between the vegetation line and watermark, Victorino said. His action could prohibit commercial activity above that area, but the mayor added that he would still need state buy-in for the ban to be more effective.
State Senator Roz Baker (D-Dist. 6, South and West Maui), who was in attendance, commented that she was unsure about this recommendation, citing likely pushback from businesses. Baker said that she would like to have more conversations with the mayor’s office and business owners before any kind of rule banning commercial activity.
Implementation of the other items will also take time, as details on the formation of the Tourism Advisory Committee “have yet to be worked out,” said county spokesperson Brian Perry. So it seems residents eager to curb tourism impacts, like those who have testified in recent weeks during meetings of the Environmental, Agricultural, and Cultural Preservation Committee, will have to continue to play the waiting game.
Hey, on the bright side, at least the summer season tourism frenzy is over.
Photo by Axel Beers