With more tourism expected for the holidays, concerns remain | News, sports, jobs



The city of Lahaina is packed with people on October 14th. Tourism officials said the outlook for the vacation travel season “looks good”, although concerns about overcrowding and the impact on local resources following a summer travel influx remain. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER Photo

A tourism official said Tuesday that the outlook for the vacation travel season in Hawaii “Looks bright” When normalcy returns, the effects of the Delta option will wane and US citizens will start booking trips to Hawaii again.

“We are pleased that the enthusiasm for travel is increasing, especially when it comes to vacation travel.” said Jeffrey Eslinger, Senior Director of Market Insights at the Hawai’i Visitors & Convention Bureau.

However, he added that the surge will not coincide with the traffic that the islands have seen during the “pent up” Demand for travel in summer.

“But we’ll see normal travel patterns in the Thanksgiving and December holidays, similar to 2019.” said Eslinger.

Although the pandemic continues to push travel demand to 2019 levels, expectations for leisure and business travel have risen for the remainder of the year, Eslinger noted during a meeting on the future of Maui tourism on Tuesday morning.

As tourism and travel rebound and in some places match pre-pandemic levels, Maui residents continue to wrestle over what to do with the impact of the visitor industry, compounded by the influx of visitors earlier this year. Traffic on the Hana Highway increased, restaurants were difficult to get to, and places that had remained empty during the pandemic, including beaches and scenic parks, were crowded or intermittently crowded.

During a Tuesday morning meeting hosted by the Hawai’i Tourism Authority and the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau, a survey of about 30 participants largely confirmed that visitors are putting a strain on local infrastructure and resources.

The attendees agreed that visitors were affecting traffic and parking, and they felt they simply had too many tourists on Maui.

Participants answered a multiple choice question about the disadvantages and / or disadvantages they believe tourism creates for themselves and the residents of Maui.

The survey and meeting were part of the agencies’ ongoing work on the destination management action plan. Virtual meetings are taking place in Maui County this month. Another meeting for Maui residents was held on Tuesday evening.

HTA released the Maui Nui Destination Management Action Plan 2021-2023 in March as part of its “Strategic vision and continuous efforts for a responsible and regenerative management of tourism.” The plan was developed by the residents of Maui County in partnership with Maui County and MVCB.

The plan serves as a guide to rebuilding, redefining, and reorienting tourism in Maui Nui. It also identifies areas of need as well as solutions to improve the quality of life for residents and enhance the visitor experience, according to HTA.

The Maui County virtual meetings will provide updates to the schedule and allow attendees to leave comments and ask questions.

When asked about the benefits of the visitor industry to Maui and its residents, most responses were equally divided into three areas: that the industry creates jobs with opportunities for advancement; the industry supports and sponsors festivals, activities and sporting events on the island; and the visitor industry helped reopen the island’s economy to recover faster from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Less than 10 percent of the respondents confirmed “There are no advantages” that brings the visitor industry to Maui.

Some of the measures already implemented in the management plan include the reef safe sun protection social media campaign, the Malama Hawai’i program and the Malama Maui County Pledge.

The Malama Hawai’i program offers visitors the chance to help with efforts such as beach cleanups and native tree planting. Some volunteers might qualify for special discounts or even a free night at a participating hotel, according to the HTA.

Maui has opportunities to clean up with the Pacific Whale Foundation and pick up debris from beaches, parks, or roadsides with the help of redline rafting in Kihei.

According to the meeting, there are more than 90 partners in the Malama program nationwide, along with 15 participating hotels on Maui and 11 nonprofits on Maui.

The Malama Maui County Pledge encourages visitors to respect the islands’ culture, environment and community. There is also a video that focuses on respecting Maui and its people.

When asked by a meeting attendee about the types of visitors the islands are looking to attract, MVCB Destination Manager Meagan DeGaia said they are looking for those who have “High values”, not necessarily high dollar values, but someone who feels like one “Citizen of the World” and is an administrator of the place where they live. She remembered meeting a couple from California this week who spent a day in the mud and water of a lo’i patch. DeGaia said the family was involved in restoring a river in California.

Another action item in the plan introduced with the State Department of Land and Natural Resources is the reservation and payment system for visitors and utility vehicles at Waianapanapa State Park in East Maui.

Alan Carpenter, DLNR’s deputy administrator, said the park has capacity limits and a local representative will greet visitors upon arrival.

But Carpenter said DLNR can’t “Solve all problems in front of our entrance”, regarding parking and traffic problems along the Hana Highway on which Waianapanapa is located.

The park’s residents will be given local access at all times, he said.

“This is really just the beginning” Carpenter said of the management effort on Maui and across the country.

Next on the visitor management list is the Diamond Head State Monument on Oahu, which can see 6,000 visitors a day at times, followed by the Iao Valley State Monument on Maui.

Carpenter said the DLNR wants lawmakers to allow the department to spend more of the money it collects from visitors, as well as hire rangers to help manage tourism and share the history of the state parks and the surrounding area.

Another update to the plan is expected to be released to the public in December, HTA officials said. In the meantime, the public has access to:

• The Maui Destination Management Action Plan at tinyurl.com/MauiDMAP.

• The Plan Progress Report at tinyurl.com/MauiDMAPSummer2021.

• An input survey at tinyurl.com/MauiNov2021Survey.

• Get answers to questions asked at the meeting at tinyurl.com/MauiNov2021Answers.

Lanai’s meeting is on November 9th and Molokai’s on November 12th. There are two sessions on each island, the first from 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and the second from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Registration links and schedules for each island can be found at www.hawaiitourismauthority.org/what-we-do/events/.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at [email protected].

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