Camper van rentals grow in popularity — and so do concerns

Tourists have been taking their vacation rentals to the beach. They’re renting campers and vans online, and some believe they can park wherever they want.
Published: Nov. 5, 2021 at 10:08 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 6, 2021 at 11:16 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tourists have been taking their vacation rentals to the beach. They’re renting campers and vans online, and some believe they can park wherever they want.

With more tourists opting for mobile accommodations rather than hotels, some local lawmakers want to see a crackdown.

Tiago Carvalho rents a Nissan Quest minivan that he converted into a camper. He used his skills as a carpenter to add a sink with running water, a seat that folds down into a bed, and even a shower.

“We are talking about a different type of client, you know?” said Carvalho. “They don’t want to go and stay inside a hotel all day and just go to the beach and come back to the hotel.”

He advertises his van on an Instagram page and on Airbnb.

Campers such as Carvalho’s can also be found on websites like RV Share, which often showing many of these vehicles parked on the beach.

But good luck trying to find a place to spend the night.

Camper vans are banned from nearly all state parks, although the state Department of Land and Natural Resources says they are considering changing some rules to open some spots up at certain parks.

You also can’t sleep in them in city parks on Oahu, where only tent camping is allowed.

Carvalho tells his clients to get a reservation at a private park, like Malaekahana, or in rural areas.

“I know there are some farmers, local farmers on the island, they are leasing spots on other apps so people can go there with camper vans,” he said.

The rising popularity is also raising a backlash.

“If you do this, then you’re going to allow more and more people to come in and go into parks where they’re already busy,” said Stephany Sofos, who serves on the board of the Kapiolani Park Preservation Society.

Sofos worries that allowing overnight parking will invite trouble to the parks.

“If we allow people to rent and stay in parks, how can we not allow homeless? We can’t be ‘one without the other,’” she said.

“We’ve been seeing tourists camping in more remote areas that usually only locals go to,” said Maui County Councilwoman Tamara Paltin.

Maui has been trying to curb tourism, and Paltin is drafting a bill that would make it more difficult for camper van owners to rent them out.

“If we can link camper vans as a type of short-term rental and limit and regulate it, then the fines for illegal short term rental of a camper van can be up to $20 grand,” she said.

But for camper van owners of Carvalho, it’s a little extra money. And while it’s not for everyone, Carvalho believes it should be an option.

“It’s super nice to have the opportunity to have a camper van,” he said.

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