Hawaii has seen a 50% jump in tourists since 1989, but spending has remained flat

Updated: May. 21, 2019 at 5:22 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The latest tourism numbers that show more visitors in Hawaii but flat spending are a wake-up call, economists told the City Council on Tuesday.

Last year, the state had a record number of nearly 10 million tourists.

That’s a 50 percent jump in 30 years. But spending is unchanged at $18 billion.

Economist Paul Brewbaker told the City Council’s Committee on Business, Economic Development that the influx of tourists is putting greater stress on communities and natural resources.

“Now everybody has a damn app that tells you how to get there, which bus to ride,” said Brewbaker. “They drive around on the same roads, they go to the same beach, they show up on the same trail."

Committee Chairwoman Kymberly Marcos Pine said the situation has become acute.

“If we continue on the path that we are going, very few people will live here anymore," she said. “It’ll be an island of just tourists so we have to change what’s happening.”

Economists say one reason visitors aren’t spending more is because the U.S. dollar is strong while foreign currency has gone down.

“It’s an erosion ― a severe erosion of the value of tourism to Hawaii,” said businessman John Foti.

“Visitor spending per visitor is the root of the problem. It’s not vacation rentals. There’s a lot of focus on vacation rentals because that’s where the heaviest social impact seems to be driving,” he added.

Some of the ideas that came out of the meeting include charging tourists fees to visit public places like at Hanauma Bay and charging permit fees for vacation rentals.

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