This afternoon, Gov. Ige announced several coming changes to local travel restrictions.
The local tourism industry is beginning to resemble a sense of pre-pandemic levels of business, and with it we are starting to witness a growing anti-tourism sentiment amongst a number of Hawai'i residents. The past year of depressed arrival numbers was detrimental to our economy but gave the islands a break from many of the perceived negatives that are associated with tourism, and these are becoming amplified as we experience quick growth in the number of visitors that are returning to the state.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser recently reported on a survey by the University of Hawai‘i Public Policy Center that found that 52% of respondents expressed a desire to limit the number of visitors to the islands while 78% supported the concept of impact fees being charged at high-traffic areas such as state parks. This is just the latest media reporting on the sliding resident sentiment regarding tourism, and it would be remiss for us to ignore this.
If we are to change this mindset and soften the overall opposition to the tourism industry, it is important that we continue to look at ways in which we can collaborate with our neighbors. One proven concept of which our association has been an ardent proponent is the utilization of user impact fees. Take the Hanauma Bay model for example; the revenues generated through impact and parking fees support the maintenance of the park while the daily limit on park users will help to keep the place healthy for generations to come.
Another area where we have worked closely with members of the community is on the issue of illegal short-term vacation rentals. As you are well aware, HLTA has taken the clear position that STRs should be relegated to resort-zoned areas and pay the appropriate taxes. However, illegally operating units have spread through our communities and bring with them a host of negative effects that impact our neighborhoods.
Coming together with the general public to solve shared issues like these is the best means of combatting what seems to be a growing negative perception of tourism.
Another recent survey by SMS Research & Marketing Service Inc. polled residents on their vaccination status and opinions of vaccination as a whole. Out of more than 400 respondents, nearly 70% reported being fully vaccinated. The survey also found that 12% of respondents have no intention of being vaccinated at any time for reasons including a lack of trust in vaccines and religious or political objections. Overall, these results are extremely positive and show that we are moving at a healthy clip toward herd immunity. The sooner that an acceptable number of residents get vaccinated, the sooner that this will become feasible, and we must continue to push for this to take place. Those of us who work or associate with the hospitality industry need to lead by example by making sure that we and our families are vaccinated. As I noted in the Star-Advertiser article, all of the available data indicates that vaccination "greatly lessens the likelihood of contracting the virus and transmitting as well".
Right now, through our strong vaccination levels and the Safe Travels program, Hawai'i can bill itself as being among the healthiest places in the world to travel. As more and more destinations succeed in opening their doors to tourists, the competition for prospective travelers' business will continue to increase. As a state, we must stay the course and continue to get vaccinated in large numbers for the sake of our community health and the health of our economy.
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