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The tourism floodgates have started to open. Some say Hawaii isn’t ready.

Updated: Apr. 13, 2021 at 12:20 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Nearly 14,000 travelers landed on Maui this past weekend, nearing pre-pandemic levels. Some say that’s too many ― and too fast.

Tiare Lawrence, a community activist on Maui, said she isn’t blaming tourists for overcrowded beaches, roads and restaurants. She said the county and state failed to create a more balanced reopening plan.

Lawrence said it’s been overwhelming on Maui.

She finds herself sitting in traffic again and having little luck finding parking.

“I went to my beach that I grew up out in Lahaina last week, and I could not get one stall, every single stall was rental cars,” said Lawrence.

On Saturday, Lawrence participated in a protest called, “Take Back the Beach” event organized by Kai Nishiki in which families spent the day at the beach with signs and beach chairs.

“By no means am I saying that we shouldn’t have tourism at all,” said Nishiki. “It’s just that we want it to be managed, we want it to be balanced.”

“We have been telling the administration for years that we need quality over quantity,” added Lawrence.

Although state and county leaders had months to prepare a reopening plan for tourism, visitor arrivals are nearing pre-pandemic levels.

Maui Mayor Mike Victorino said he’s looking at ways to limit the influx.

“We have an impactive point in our economy. We have to protect our resources,” said Victorino, in a news conference Monday afternoon.

“So we’re looking for methods to level off and not have so many visitors at any given time.”

Professor Jerry Agrusa, of UH Manoa’s School of Travel Industry Management, said one way to both cap visitors and maximize income is incorporating a “high season” tax.

“Raise the price some way maybe put in a COVID charge, COVID tax just during this high season and use that money to help the beach, the parks, clean the beaches, the bathrooms, paper towels, security at the beaches these things,” said Agrusa.

“Then people will say OK, the tourist is coming, make the tourist pay, we have to have the tourist pay.”

Others want to generate revenue outside of tourism altogether.

“I wish to just put politics aside and just make diversifying our economy at a major priority,” said Lawrence.

Agrusa foresees tourism coming back even stronger in the summertime.

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