Leaders look for ways to balance economic recovery with anti-tourism sentiment

Conflict rises between tourists and residents as more visitors arrive on Maui

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Visitor industry leaders are struggling to find a way forward as tourists return to the islands, causing conflicts in the community.

On Tuesday, Hawaii Tourism Authorities CEO and President John De Fries met with other tourism leaders and Maui Mayor Mike Victorino to talk about direction of the industry and recent flare-ups.

The meeting came a day after Four Seasons Resort Maui in Wailea General Manager Marc Bromley apologized publicly for an internal memo to his staff Friday that said protesters hoped to make tourists feel uncomfortable during a “Take Back the Beach” event.

“I’m very sorry for the way that I approached that letter,” said Bromley.

“I’m very embarrassed and I’m ashamed that I lost that opportunity so I wanted to apologize as sincerely as possible to those that I’ve hurt and those that I’ve offended,” he added.

Tourism, government and community leaders are struggling to balance tourism’s comeback with anti-tourism sentiment.

The average daily visit census in Hawaii in February was more than 90,000 visitors. In February 2020, it was 250,000.

“I would agree with the direction that Mayor Victorino pointed out in today’s meeting that these beaches are public,” said De Fries said.

“He really called for the industry to do a better job of managing itself,” he added.

De Fries added he hopes to find a medium and believes there needs to be increased dialogue.

“Part of the return of tourism is the restoration of jobs that are starting to be recalled,” he said.

De Fries says he fears that managing tourism will be harder with proposed budget cuts.

The HTA says senators are proposing to slash its budget in half ― from $79 million to about $43 million. The funding cuts would force HTA to slash position and key programs.

Some lawmakers have criticized HTA for wasteful spending, but De Fries disagrees and says the agency has been cutting back for months.

“During this downtime, especially if we are trying to create a new mindset for the visitor, This is the period in which we have to educate. We have to build new programming,” he said.

The tourism bills are still making their way through the legislative process.

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