Hawaii unemployment caused by the Covid strangling of hotel, tour, bar, restaurant and car rental businesses might have tamped down complains about 10 million annual tourists despoiling our roads, beaches and hiking trails.
Right now, we might get only 400 visitors on any given day and that’s not bringing in the big bucks.
But it would be a big mistake to sit back and clap our hands when Covid is gone and the big jets start landing again at half-hour intervals. We can make changes.
We can’t keep U.S. people out. Inter-state travel is promised in the Constitution. We can soak outsiders big-time for hotel rooms and rental cars, but then we’re chasing business off to Mexico and Florida.
We are looking at higher state park fees. Tourists are used to paying $15 or more admission elsewhere.
What we can and should do is tackle the matter of most of those 10 million people in cars on our roads and in limited parking spots in our island main towns and at popular attractions cherished by locals who don’t expect a crowd of 100 at their waterfall.
And state and city attractions don’t — like the Polynesian Cultural Center — have 42 acres on which to put an endless parking lot.
So we need to ration. And there are a couple of ways to legally do that.
One is to go to toll roads on overused routes such as the Hana Highway. You do that with technology. Locals’ cars would have a computer-readable windshield tag that declares “resident — no charge.” Rental cars would have a tag that assigns perhaps a $15 charge to the rental bill. The unmanned, tag-reading booth is relatively inexpensive to mount on whatever roadway we think needs a discouraging toll.
And then there is parking. It has to be done better than at Hanauma Bay. Yes, there are 300 parking stalls, but those tend to fill up around 7 a.m. when we are in full tourism bloom. A resident arriving at 10 a.m. is out of luck.
A solution there and elsewhere was devised on Kauai for those going to Ha’ena State Park, Tunnels beach and the Kalalau Trail. That road had been closed due to the 2018 floods and residents pushed the state not to allow resumption of the overcrowding.
Complaints heard. Now there are designated Ha’ena parking stalls. You need an advance reservation made online for a day and time. Its $15 for all day. It’s a $200 fine if you’re ticketed for illegal parking.
Parking will be a big hang-up for controlling the Hana Highway. It’s a two-lane, twisty road with cliffs mauka and a deep drop-off to the sea makai.
So now, people just park wherever they can, mauka or makai, to view waterfalls or hike. They impede traffic. There’s no room for parking lots. Tourists should be warned in brochures about no parking — just view as you drive. Illegal parking should bring a heavy fine to make it unaffordable for the hard-core wealthy.
I don’t see any other way to handle it. Do you?
I’d also impose higher inner-Honolulu parking fees for rental cars than for residents. One way to do that is to prohibit rental-car-tagged cars from using metered street parking. Make them use private lots and set those fees at $15-$20 for two hours. New York’s average private parking fee for two hours is now $34.
All this is not going to discourage tourism. People want to come to Hawaii. They’ve heard we are an expensive place. So is Tahiti. Mexico’s cheaper but you might get caught in a drug cartel gunfight!
Road fees and parking fees. And encouraging visitors to use shuttles. If they don’t have an expensive rental car, there’s less incentive to go to our out-of-the-way beaches and trails mostly used by locals.
Keep them in Waikiki and Kailua town, Kailua-Kona, windward Kauai rather than the North Shore, and Lahaina-Kaanapali on Maui. Molokai already discourages them and Lanai has almost nothing to do outside of a hotel property.
Okay, give me your best shot!