Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor are some of the incredible sights attracting tourists to O'ahu each year, in addition to the island's seemingly endless opportunities for surfing, hiking, eating well and total relaxation. But soon Hawaii's most populated island is going to reduce its visitors numbers amid concerns that tourism is becoming unsustainable.
How do you solve a problem like overtourism? State tourism officials in Hawaii are trying to work that out with a newly-approved plan that will "rebuild, redefine and reset" tourism on O'ahu by decreasing visitor numbers to a more sustainable level. Developed by residents of O'ahu and the regional tourist board, the plan aims to bring visitor numbers down by controlling the number of tourist accommodations on the island and seeking changes to land use, zoning and airport policies.
The plan, which is to be rolled out over the next three years, will also create reservation systems for natural and cultural sites, and calls for a “regenerative tourism” fee that directly supports local environmental programs. Additionally, it will seek to manage visitors’ use of cars as transportation on the island.
“This has been a collaborative effort in an important step of bringing communities, government and industry to stewarding tourism the way our people know it should be steered. Now the hard work begins and we look to everyone to helping us push tourism forward in a sustainable manner for this place we love and our communities," Noelani Schilling-Wheeler, executive director of the O‘ahu Visitors Bureau, said in a statement.
As mainlanders return to Hawaii, there are concerns that overtourism is putting the islands' infrastructure under enormous strain and leading to a reduced quality in life for residents—not to mention to a diminished experience for tourists. Maui recently introduced a new tax aimed at tourists staying at hotels or short-term rentals as the island struggles to keep up with increased demand.
The pandemic is also compounding the issue, with Hawaii's governor David Ige requesting this week that visitors stay away from Hawaii until at least October as Delta variant cases continue to rise.
O'ahu is bearing the worst of the surge and is trying to curb infections with the Safe Access O'ahu program. Set to be introduced on September 13, the program requires people to present a vaccination certificate or proof of a negative COVID-19 test before entering indoor venues such as restaurants, bars, museums and gyms.