HALEAKALA, MAUI - A plan to control crowds and improve the visitor experience at Haleakala could put several small tour companies out of business on Maui.
The National Park Service is set to reduce the number of guided vehicle tour contracts from 17 to a maximum of four.
Some 1.2 million people traveled to Haleakala National Park last year. With an increasing number of sunrise visitors, park managers said it's challenging to provide a safe and enjoyable experience while also protecting the sensitive environment at the summit.
Guided vehicle tour businesses currently operate in the park under annual commercial use authorization contracts. Companies must now apply for one of the four new 10-year concession contracts, which are set to start on January 1, 2018.
"It is very drastic. That's the unfortunate part," said Lewis Upfold, manager of Haleakala Bike Company. "We understand that with change will come sacrifice, but the sacrifice we feel is being made here is a bit much."
Phil Feliciano, owner of Cruiser Phil's Volcano Riders, said he doesn't have the financial resources needed to compete.
He hopes to partner up with a business that wins a contract.
"It doesn't seem fair to the small companies," Feliciano said. "Those mom and pop operations are going to be affected, probably put out of business or have to reinvent themselves."
Once fewer tour companies are allowed, Feliciano believes traffic congestion will actually increase.
"The visitor now has less choices to go up to Haleakala. The concierges will have less choices to send those visitors on which means probably more of those visitors are going to be getting in their own personal car and driving up there," he said.
The park service will hold two public meetings to get feedback on the plan.
The gatherings are set for April 20 at 5 p.m. at the Kula Community Center and April 21 at 4:30 p.m. at the Kahului Community Center.