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As Maui braces for an expected influx of visitors next month, residents have expressed support for a newly proposed moratorium on visitor accommodation that would extend throughout the island of Maui.
Unlike other counties in Hawaii and due to a strong U.S. visitor market, Maui is quickly approaching its pre-pandemic tourism levels, which hit a record 3 million in 2019.
Maui is expected to have about 64,000 more air seats next month than in July 2019, according to data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
The new bill follows another proposed moratorium that would suspend development of visitor accommodation in West and South Maui until their community plans are updated, or in two years, according to the first possibility. The latter was recommended for committee approval last week and is now heading to full council for first reading.
Introduced on Wednesday by Council Vice President Keani Rawlins-Fernandez at the Maui County Council Climate Action, Resilience and Environment Committee meeting, the new proposal would maintain the number of tourist accommodation units. current until the council passes legislation implementing the recommendations presented by the Temporary Tourism Management Inquiry Group, or in two years, whichever comes first.
“If someone was injured and started to bleed, would we allow the person to lose pints of blood while we discuss how to heal the wound?” Rawlins-Fernandez asked. “No, that would be ridiculous. This moratorium is meant to stop the bleeding while we figure out how to heal the wound. “
Members of the public echoed other testimony at recent committee meetings on the subject of imposing a moratorium on the development of visitor accommodation. Many residents on Wednesday called for relief from the impacts of overtourism such as overcrowding, depletion of natural resources, traffic problems and other concerns.
“HTA and local media polls over the past year show residents overwhelmingly agree that tourism levels before the pandemic were too high,” he added. said Amber Coontz, a resident of Lahaina, a part-time public school teacher and part-time restaurant worker. “Despite claims by government officials about ‘regenerative / responsible tourism’, Maui has already returned to pre-pandemic visitor numbers.”
Mandolin Wells of Kihei also supported the moratorium.
“The destruction of our local ecosystems, the failing infrastructure, the negative impact on residents and the lack of sufficiently paying jobs – all are urgent factors that must be addressed”, she said. “It is not possible to do this without a break in the new building of the complex.”
However, industry officials such as Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawai’i Lodging & Tourism Association, have said visitor accommodations are among the hardest hit during pandemic shutdowns and are in need of attention. economic recovery.
“At its core, this proposed measure unfairly discriminates against a single industry that regularly contributes millions of dollars each year to state and county revenues,” he wrote in his testimony.
Opponents of the moratorium say jobs in hotels and construction will be negatively affected. They also say that limiting hotels and other accommodations allowed for visitors will lead to an increase in illegal short-term vacation rentals.
“One of the things that can be an unintended consequence of a bill like this or the previous one is the proliferation of illegal rentals,” County General Manager Sandy Baz said. “We don’t want that.”
Baz said that while the mayor does not support the current or previous bill, the administration does support discussion of better ways to manage tourism in the future.
“As one of the witnesses rightly said, this is not just a question of land use over which the county council or the administration have control,” said Baz. “The number of airplane seats that are slated to arrive in July is actually significantly higher than the 2019 numbers. This is a major concern for the administration and should be for the board as well. “
“But it’s not something we have control over” he added. “We really need to look at what we can control and how to fix it. “
He referred to efforts to promote visitor education and manage traffic by increasing signage.
Committee chair Kelly King, who introduced the first proposed moratorium, said action to curtail tourism – not educating existing tourists – is needed at this point.
“I have not seen a single person testify against this bill who is not part of an association that is trying to grow”, she said. “All of the residents who came out supported the moratorium because they are frankly tired of all these people on the island and they see no personal benefit in it.”
With the exception of January, visitor arrivals have increased month-to-month since tourism reopened in October. Valley Island in April reached 178,105 arrivals, which is just over 70% of the all-time high for the month – 249,076 set in 2019, according to an HTA report released last week.
There are a total of 344,935 non-stop seats planned at Kahului Airport for July (although the actual number of reservations is only available at the end of the month). During the same month in 2019, there were 281,408 air seats, according to HTA.
Driven by the strong travel market in the Americas, Maui County is set to hit record tourist numbers ahead of the pandemic this summer, according to the executive director of the University of Economics Research Organization. ‘Hawai’i, Carl Bonham.
International travel, largely closed, typically reserve locations on Oahu and the Island of Hawaii. Kauai had the strictest rules in the state and visitors were limited until the county mandates were relaxed in April.
During the meeting, Rawlins-Fernandez called the expected influx of aircraft seats in July “incredibly alarming.”
She and King said the intent of the two moratorium measures is a double pass to full council. While the King’s Bill has a faster path for eventual approval, the Rawlins-Fernandez measure would have to go through the Maui Planning Commission first as it would only impact the island of Maui.
Rawlins-Fernandez said the full council may take action on June 18 to send the latest version of the bill to the committee. From there, the commission has until September 7 to review it and schedule a public hearing. It would then come back to the board for first and second reading.
For more information and to view the invoice and testimonials, visit mauicounty.granicusideas.com/meetings/1337-climate-action-resilience-and-environment-committee-on-2021-06-02-9-00-am / agenda _ items.
* Kehaulani Cerizo can be contacted at [email protected]