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As more tourists flock to the islands, state and community leaders hope for ‘pono’ tourism

Updated: Apr. 7, 2021 at 7:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii’s beaches are back to being shared between locals and tourists. But, steering the tourism comeback while balancing the needs of the community is a challenge.

“The tourists are back and in greater numbers than we’ve seen in a very long time,” said State Sen. Chris Lee of Windward Oahu.

“Beach parks are being crowded, overrun, parking in people’s neighborhoods that’s affecting their driveways, tour buses dropping people off where they are not supposed to,” he said.

Lee says he was sent an image, a week ago, of a tour van dropping off visitors in an undesignated drop-off area in a Kailua neighborhood. He hopes his bill to increase penalties from $1,000 to $5,000 dollars for tour companies that repeatedly violate the law will continue to move forward in legislature.

“We want to make sure that those fines are meaningful. That those companies do right by the community,” Lee said.

Hawaii’s tourism levels are no where near pre-pandemic levels, but the amount of visitors arriving to the state is rising.

Hawaii Tourism Authority says the average daily census showed that there were 90,776 in February compared to 250,052 in February 2020.

Only 513 travelers flew into Hawaii at the beginning of the pandemic exactly one year ago.

On Wednesday, the Hawaii Tourism Authority reports nearly 20,000 travelers.

Patty Felter, the manger of Island Treasures, an art and retail fixture for years in the heart of Kailua, says they need more high spending tourists because the business is barely hanging on.

“Not a very good feeling. Unsure. The store still hasn’t returned to normal hours,” she said.

The group, Aloha Aina Economic Futures, is advocating for an economic reboot that cares for the community and the environment.

“Aloha Aina Economic Futures is not saying an outright no to tourism. We are just calling for regenerative pono tourism and tourism that’s going to benefit local people,” said co-founder Mahina Paishon-Duarte.

After historic flooding in 2018, the group credits Haena, Kauai for pulling through with public-private partnerships. They also support parking permits and walking passes at Wainapanapa State Park near Hana, Maui to reduce traffic.

There are several bills making their way through the legislature that address sustainable tourism.

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