Paying Paradise Prices? How Hawaii is Trying to Curb Its Ecotourism Boom

by Ethan Kim
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HONOLULU (AP) — Keeping Hawaii’s environment healthy and beautiful is hard work. It takes money and effort to fix coral reefs when boats accidently slam into them, protect trees from a bad fungus, and make sure people aren’t bothering dolphins or turtles in the water. People come to Hawaii to enjoy its natural beauty, which they often see on their phone or computer first through posts on social media. Because of this, Hawaii now wants tourists to help pay for taking care of the islands’ environment.

Gov. Josh Green said that he wants travelers to help pay for the impact they are causing in Hawaii since only 1.4 million people live there but up to 10 million tourists come each year. He thinks it’s fair for the visitors to be held responsible for any damage their travels leave behind and make sure it is taken care of.

The politicians in Hawaii are discussing about a law that would make tourists pay for a license or ticket to visit their state parks and trails. They haven’t decided how much money it would cost yet.

Last year, the governor wanted tourists to pay $50 when visiting our state. But, other people believe that this goes against the U.S Constitution which says people should be able to move freely within the country. Instead of charging a fee, these people suggest making more parks and trails for visitor enjoyment. If our governor’s plan goes through, it would be the first time ever that a U.S state charges a fee for tourists!

Hawaii is introducing a fee or tax, just like the ones implemented in popular tourist spots like Venice and Galapagos Islands. For example, Palau, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean has introduced a $100 charge for international visitors to help manage their protected land and promote ecotourism.

Hawaii wants to better manage its travel sites and attractions because people’s interests have changed. For example, golfing used to be more popular than hiking with visitors but now the opposite is true – hiking has become 50% more popular while golfing has gone down by 30%. And, many people are visiting places they heard about online instead of traditional tourist locations. The issue is that Hawaii doesn’t have enough money to take care of all these different places so it needs help managing them.

Quinlan said that going on a family vacation is not like it was 20 years ago, where you just see some of the well-known attractions. Nowadays, people look for beautiful places they’ve seen on Instagram and try to visit them, such as rope swings and coconut trees. He also added that these places that didn’t have many visitors before now become popular because of social media.

Most parks and hiking trails can be visited for free. But some of the most popular ones require visitors to pay a fee, such as Diamond Head State Monument. It’s an ancient volcano with a trail going all the way up to its top, and every year around 1 million people visit it – that’s why they need to give $5 per person.

The government is working on a law that will make it mandatory for visitors who are age 15 and older to pay an annual fee when they go to nature parks, trails, or other natural places on state land. If someone does not buy this license they could be charged with fines even though there won’t be penalties imposed for five years while the program is being introduced. Hawaiian residents with IDs don’t have to pay anything.

The Senate wanted everyone to pay a $50 fee to enter a beach, but the House Finance Committee decided they did not want that. The chairperson of the committee (Kyle Yamashita) said that this bill was still in progress and needed more work. The head of Hawaii’s Board of Land and Natural Resources (Dawn Chang) then said that people probably wouldn’t need to pay the fee on beaches if those details could be figured out.

A representative named Dee Morikawa suggested that the state should create a list of places that need an official license. Green is flexible with what fee should be paid and is willing to support it depending on what the Legislature decides. Supporters also say that no other part of America has something like this, though Alaska charges $34.50 per person aboard a cruise ship.

Hawaii desperately needs help with conservation. There are some bugs attacking the forests there, plus a special type of mold that is sadly killing a tree called ohia – which only grows in Hawaii and makes up most of the trees in their wet forests.

Some conservation activities are linked to tourism. For example, animals like dolphins, turtles and Hawaiian monk seals can be safe from being disturbed or harmed by people. Hikers sometimes bring plants from outside of the forest onto their shoes that don’t belong in the area. Snorkelers and boats can also damage coral reefs by stepping on them, which already have problems with non-native plants and turning white.

According to an environmental organization called Conservation International, in 2019 the state of Hawaii spent $535 million on conservation. However, they needed to spend $886 million in total.

Recently at Diamond Head trail, some visitors weren’t happy about the $50 fee for hiking. They said it was too expensive especially for those who like to explore nature without spending a lot of money. Sarah Tripp from Michigan had come with her husband and two of their kids and she said: “A family with three kids would find it hard to pay that much!”

Katrina Kain, an English teacher from Puerto Rico who is visiting Hawaii, said that if people know they will have to pay a $50 fee when coming here, it won’t be too bad. She thinks that it would sting some people if they were not aware of the fee before arriving. The money made from this fee will go into a special fund owned by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Carissa Cabrera, a project manager for the Hawaii Green Fee which is composed of different non-profit organizations that support the proposal, said that this will offer financial support for conservation, no matter the budget situation. Mufi Hanneman, CEO and President of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association which represents hotels, agrees on the bill but stated that it must be monitored properly on what kind of money is being spent.

Mayor Hannemann said it’s not right that people are paying money when there are bathrooms and trails still not fixed or repaved. Year after year, nothing changes and it’s the same every time.

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