A new $50 visitor fee for many tourists in Hawaii looks increasingly likely.
The proposal is moving quickly through Hawaii’s legislature. If the proposed legislation is passed through the Hawaii Statehouse, it would require a yearly license for any visitors who want to use any of the state-owned parks, beaches, forests or hiking trails.
The fee assessed to visitors in order to use some of the state’s most popular attractions would be on top of any entry or parking fees some locations already charge.
“The future of visiting natural spaces in Hawaii is going to have to include capacity management like we are beginning to see with the reservation systems at some parks,” Ilihia Gionson, public affairs officer at the Hawaii Tourism Authority, told TPG.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green campaigned on a “climate impact fee” to raise as much as $600 million a year.
In an emailed statement to TPG, the governor said, “We saw so clearly the impacts of 10 million annual visitors on our islands that in addition to my proposal, there are several being discussed at the legislature. The bottom line is that we need to generate as much revenue as we can from travelers, to help mitigate those impacts.”
Indeed, the $50 fee would go to efforts to limit the impact of crowding and to protect areas that have been inundated with tourists.
There are several models under consideration, but a $50 license would act like a sort of fishing license and would only be good for one year.
Another proposal that would tax everyone coming into Hawaii appears to be dead for now.
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Opponents of the new fee argue that it unnecessarily penalizes out-of-state tourists and might come up against some constitutional issues. The Tax Foundation of Hawaii has claimed a state-imposed fee might violate the Constitution’s privileges and immunities clause.
However, advocates believe the bill has a good chance of passing as well as passing constitutional muster.
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Hawaii’s Tourism Authority is also mostly on board.
“What we have consistently supported are site-specific user fees,” Gionson told TPG.
“For example, to hike Diamond Head, there’s a charge, and reservations are required. We’ve consistently supported models like that.”
Gionson said despite the fact that it will be more expensive for people to travel to the Aloha State, “Very broadly, we support the idea that visitors can and should help contribute to caring for Hawaii’s natural resources.”
He pointed out that in 2019, Hawaii got 10.4 million visitors, and “Our natural spaces felt it.”
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He continued, “No matter what model emerges from the legislature, what is most important for us at the Tourism Authority is the reinvestment of those revenues into improving the experience for both locals and visitors alike.”
“Our current local challenges are costly, including the impacts of the climate emergency, the loss of native species, freshwater insecurity, and coral reef decline,” said Carissa Cabrera, a project manager at Hawaii Green Fee, an advocacy group for the new visitor duty.
She continued, “A visitor green fee would enable us to meet these challenges with local solutions and sustain the environment of Hawaii for future generations — the same environment that attracts visitors here in the first place.”
She pointed out that visitors are having a negative impact on Hawaii’s many endangered animals and coral reefs. She also pointed to the loss of coastal beaches as seas continue to rise from global warming.
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According to a Money.co.uk story, Hawaii’s tourism taxes are already among the world’s highest. In fact, it ranked Honolulu as the city with the highest tourist taxes in the world.
A seven-night stay in Honolulu would cost, on average, more than $361 just in taxes. That includes a 10.25% “transient accommodations tax” and an additional 3% surcharge for spending the night in Honolulu. Other Hawaiian islands charge similar fees and taxes on hotel stays.
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There are also already additional fees at lots of Hawaiian attractions, including Kee Beach on Kauai, Waianapanapa State Park on Maui, and Diamond Head State Monument on Oahu. I recently paid a $30 visitor entrance fee at Haleakala National Park on Maui.
Green-fee advocates told TPG the money would provide a sustained funding pool for community organizations, state agencies and local governments to implement and scale conservation work throughout Hawaii.
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Gov. Josh Green said, “If we don’t take substantial action, not only will the visitor experience be degraded, more importantly, we will have failed to be good caretakers of the Hawai‘i we call home.”