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Case: Cap on rental cars, freezing of hotel rooms may alleviate overtourism | News, Sports, Jobs

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Wailea Beach is shown in early August. State and federal officials at the Hawaii Economic Association’s annual conference last week discussed the state’s direction in the aftermath of the pandemic, including the future of the economy and tourism. Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Before the pandemic, some type of tourism was already making residents of the state of Aloha sick, according to the United States representative in Hawaii, Ed Case.

“Even before COVID-19, public support for tourism, at least a brand of tourism that has been practiced lately, was in free fall,” he told the Hawaii Economic Association’s annual conference last week. “Everyone was fed up – of overtourism. “

The Oahu congressman, who sits on the House appropriations committee that regulates federal discretionary spending, was the keynote speaker at the 2021 conference – titled “COVID-19: What Have We Learned? Where do we go from here? “ – held via Zoom on Thursday and Friday.

Free case “hard” approaches to mitigate overtourism, including no room extensions for existing hotels and resorts, as well as caps on available rental vehicles.

“Can we put a maximum cap on the availability of rental cars in our state?” “ He asked.

Rental cars are parked in central Maui in September. Some lawmakers have expressed support for a cap on rental cars in every county, although it remains to be seen whether there is sufficient political will to push for the changes.

Maui County Council members, through state and county action, have been working on these two points. But it remains to be seen whether there is sufficient political will to change the course of overcrowding due to tourism.

Council member Tamara Paltin, who holds the West Maui seat of residence, worked on proposals for the county state legislative package that would allow each council to regulate the number of rental cars in the respective jurisdictions.

The Hawaii State County Association’s legislative package includes eight bills, including Senate Bill 165 and Senate Bill 438 proposed by Paltin to empower county councils to regulate the number of rental cars in each county.

Paltin said on Wednesday, however, that the state was receiving a lot of money from the car rental industry and that it would take “a wave of people across the state of people reaching out to their lawmakers” for real changes to be made.

“Regarding the rental car cap, I keep pushing it, but I don’t have high hopes of state lawmakers unless ordinary people all go out there and contact people. of the State when this happens “, she said. “Because rental cars are such a big industry for the state. They get money and stuff and they don’t have to deal with the effects.

Kahului Airport is the second busiest in the state in terms of passenger volume, but its car rental industry generates the most funds in all of Hawaii, the state Department of Transportation told the Maui News in 2019, before the pandemic, thousands of rental cars sat idle in the fields of central Maui.

Paltin said she is also working on a proposed tiered car registration program, similar to the tiered property tax rates that have been enacted countywide. If a person registers one to five cars, a standard rate will apply. However, if enrolled five to 20 – or more than 20 – higher rates would be levied.

“If you register 5 to 20 cars, you already have a greater impact on our road infrastructure” she said.

Meanwhile, after months of solid support from Maui residents at board committee and regular meetings, a proposal to temporarily suspend building permits for hotels, resorts and other vacation rentals continues. to go through local legislative bodies.

A version of the Planning Department’s bill, proposed by Council Vice-Chair Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, was recently approved by the Maui Planning Commission. He will now be heard by the council committee.

Generations ago, tourism was a growth economy and remains a growth economy to this day, Case said.

Records of more than 10 million visitors flocked to Aloha state in 2019, including more than 3 million in Maui County, according to data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

In recent years, tourism has sometimes become “intrusive,” “extractive,” “disruptive” and ” unsustainable “ Case said, adding that COVID-19 may be an opportunity to change course.

“There is such a strong temptation to drift off in the pre-COVID world – even if this path is not sustainable,” he said. “We all have to fight this… I don’t think it will be good for us now or in the future. “

Aside from car rental caps and banning visitor accommodation to increase the number of rooms, Case suggested that no additional land would be classified for hotels and resorts; a “true” cracking down on illegal vacation rentals, including ensuring that visitor rooms do not extend into residential areas; refuse to build more airport gates because demand is generated by increased tourism and not by residents; and cultivate more reservation systems that reserve time for residents of state parks and other areas.

“If we think about these kinds of areas, we might make some surprising decisions for ourselves that might work.” he said. “But these are choices.”

After travel rules eased about a year ago to restart the visitor industry, tourism has rebounded stronger than expected, especially for Maui County, whose generally robust domestic arrivals quickly hit the shores. due to accumulated savings and demand. Maui’s domestic arrivals in July set a new all-time high.

Neighboring islands are more dependent on the tourism industry, but residents’ feelings towards the industry are most negative in Kauai and Maui, according to recent Hawaii Tourism Authority surveys cited at the conference.

“Tourism depends on public support – that’s why we market to the world”, Case said. “It’s not just our landscape, it’s us. If “we” are not happy, that does not make the tourism industry very happy. “

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be contacted at [email protected]

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