Kai Nishiki and other frustrated Maui residents rose early Saturday and armed themselves with lounge chairs, umbrellas and towels to storm Wailea Beach and push back the growing numbers of tourists who flocked to the island, even after COVID-19 practically drove the visitor industry closed.
“The residents feel uncomfortable in our own space. We want the government and tourists to feel exactly how uncomfortable we are, ”said Nishiki, a community activist who organized the Take Back Our Beach event, and promised that further action will be taken until action is taken become.
“Our communities feel displaced and marginalized, as if our only value is being a backdrop for vacation photos.”
The faster-than-expected pace of recovery is good for Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy, but it also creates a sense of urgency to improve tourism management, especially in the pockets of the state that were already struggling for balance before the pandemic broke out.
Angela Keen, founder of Hawaii Kapu Quarantine Breakers, said she has received complaints from hotel staff and activity providers who are concerned that some visitors are “not sensitive to our nature and culture and our willingness to wear masks to protect our neighbors” .
“Hostility is mounting,” said Keen. “The tourism industry needs hooponopono (to get things right) with locals, otherwise they’ll be in a place trying to attract visitors and locals won’t be nice to them. They won’t have the aloha that they normally had. “
Saturday’s “Take Back Our Beach” event, which urged residents to grab the beach in front of the Four Seasons and Grand Wailea Resorts, was a clear line in the sand against what Nishiki called “uncontrolled tourism growth and poor tourism management “Designated.
Maui County Council has taken note of this and is considering measures to reserve at least half of all public parking on the beach for residents and visitors who will be charged parking fees.
“It’s a quality of life issue,” said Kula-year-old Kisha Hudson, who was at Wailea Beach on Saturday. “We all work hard to live on this island and right now there are so many tourists everywhere. I take my kids to the beach on weekends and they don’t even want to get out of the car because A, there is no place to park and B, they are scared of being with so many people.
“We’re just making a statement so the mayor might see how we feel about it. Obviously, the tourists probably have no idea. Little do they know that there is so much hostility going on on the island. “
Also on the beach was San Diego, 38-year-old Michael Rossi, a frequent visitor from Maui, who said he understood some of the frustrations local residents were feeling.
“They feel that they need more balance in their state. However, this state would have big problems to push the tourism dollars away, ”he said. “I want them to know that tourists, we respect the locals very much, we respect their culture and the country, the majority of us, and we want to exist in harmony, but we also want to enjoy our holidays. This is the only chance for many children to see a beautiful Maui beach, and now there are protesters with signs everywhere. It’s a little unfortunate. “
The Hawai’i Tourism Authority, the state agency responsible for recreational tourism in Hawaii, is even at risk.
The Hawaii Senate has proposed cutting HTA’s upcoming annual funding from $ 79 million to $ 48 million. On Friday, the Senate Ways and Means, as well as the Senate Trade and Consumer Protection Committees, passed a new version of HB 862 that would make sweeping budgetary and other changes to the HTA.
More importantly, however, HB 862 would focus the agency on its original marketing and branding functions, one of its four pillars, rather than prioritizing new pillars like Hawaiian culture, the environment, and the community. The change would be a significant turn from the agency’s linchpin to a stronger role as destination manager after Hawaii had more than 10 million visitors in 2019 and the impact of some parts of the community and state law causing setbacks.
John De Fries, President and CEO of HTA, said Friday that more than 200 people testified against the proposed changes in HB 862, which are at a critical juncture for tourism in Hawaii.
“Wailea is just the tip of the iceberg. Among the 200 who have voiced their objections are people in the community who sit on powder kegs because they don’t want anything to break out, ”said De Fries.
“The dismantling of this system called HTA should bother everyone because at this moment in Hawaii’s history we are at a turning point. This thing could go south if these kinds of subjects are not treated in the right way by the right church leaders. “
Heightened tensions are also part of the reason why Ashley Lindsey, a new member of the Maui Planning Commission, was moved to tears last month before deciding to abstain from giving special permission to use the administrative area, so the Maui Coast Hotel can build a new six story building with 170 guest rooms. After hours of discussion, the permit was awarded 6: 2, with Lindsey’s abstention from voting as yes.
“I honestly can’t choose the community about the environment or, as you know, jobs,” said Lindsey.
The challenges faced by the Maui Planning Commission in deciding to expand an existing hotel in a visitor-centric neighborhood become even more complex when policymakers need to regulate the spread of tourism in the communities.
There were much fears on Tuesday as the city’s Department of Planning and Approval held a public hearing on a plan to expand the short-term vacation rental by allowing an additional 1,700 Oahu homeowners to operate bed and breakfast units. Several testers were concerned that vacation rental occupancy has exceeded hotel occupancy since October, when the state reopened tourism.
Rick Fried, chairman of the HTA, said Friday the agency had spoken out strongly against illegal vacation rentals as part of its tourism management plan, which would be at risk if lawmakers cut funding for the organization and narrowed its scope.
“We have to have the management of tourists,” said Fried. “It’s a dramatic development and an important development (for HTA) because I don’t think we need 10 million people anymore.”
Kailua doesn’t even have a hotel, but conflict between the needs of visitors and residents often arises from its popular beaches and vacation rentals. State Senator Chris Lee (D-Hawaii Kai-Waimanalo-Kailua) recently posted a photo on Facebook showing four red convertibles, the type of rental car preferred by tourists, parked together on the street near Kailua Beach.
“I think we have a tight window, maybe months to a year or two, to really figure out how to reinvent the way we use and manage tourism in our local communities,” he said . “If we miss this boat, there will be tremendous frustration in communities that feel they are being overrun.”
Lee said the fact that some tourists continued to come to Hawaii during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak created another layer of suspicion that is still there. He sees “volunteering” as a way to build bridges.
“There are places like Palau that have done things right, where, for example, ‘volunteering’ is not only part of the tourist experience but also part of the local culture and economy,” he said. “We haven’t really done more here than scratch the surface of volunteer tourism.”
De Fries said the Malama Hawaii program is just one of the steps HTA and the state’s visitor industry are taking to redefine modern tourism as a mutual agreement in which visitors and locals support one another.
Projects across the state range from reforestation and tree planting to beach cleaning, marine reef conservation, quilting and taro staining. Some hotels even offer perks like free nights to guests participating in an activity in Malama Hawaii.
Kimela Keahiolalo, education program manager at Kualoa Ranch, said the two-hour Malama Aina eco-adventure, or Care for the Land, is an example of how mindful travelers can give back by providing community service as part of a cultural learning experience.
Keahiolalo brings tourists to work and takes care of a kalo loi (taro patch), an endeavor that connects native Hawaiians with their ancestors.
It’s hard, dirty work. But Keahiolalo said the experience was so popular that the ranch will expand it to twice a day on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays starting April 22.
Keahiolalo said she was impressed with the visitors who attended.
“They didn’t just want to take from Hawaii, they wanted to bring what they could and do better,” she said. “The pandemic has devastated us. So we can use the extra hands. “
Spending their vacation knee-deep in the mud harvesting Kalo at the Kualoa Ranch wouldn’t be part of every tourist’s dream vacation, but California visitor Ken Goodwin; his wife Kathleen; her sister Donna Killion; and her friend Belinda Hayes described the experience as a travel highlight that improved her understanding of Hawaii.
“Originally you come as a tourist and that’s how you think,” said Hayes. “But I think after you do the give-back you can connect more with the locals and know where they are from and how they live.”