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HTA Hopes New Action Plans Will Address Resident Concerns

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Casey Harlow / HPR
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The Hawai?i Tourism Authority is in the final phase of developing and implementing its new plan for tourism management in the state. The hope is that it will not only make the industry more sustainable, but also address community concerns.

Before the pandemic, tourism in the state was breaking records in visitor arrivals and spending. In 2019, 10.4 million tourists arrived in the state. They spent close to $18 billion dollars.

But as more people arrived, criticisms and concerns of overcrowding and the effect it will have on natural resources on every island grew from residents and lawmakers.

Rick Egged, executive director of the Waik?k? Improvement Association, believes the tension between visitors and residents stemmed from the growing popularity of vacation rentals.

"If every traditional vacation unit, hotels, timeshares, condo hotels, were occupied in the state, year-round we could accommodate about seven to eight million visitors," he said. "So it's very clear that those extra three million visitors are staying in vacation rentals throughout our community."

Egged says Waik?k? residents are used to having visitors in their community, but other communities may not feel the same way.

In an effort to address these concerns, the HTA is shifting its strategic plan. One that prioritizes natural resources, Native Hawaiian culture, community, and brand marketing. The agency last year began the process to create action plans for each county that address community concerns, while also implementing goals and outlines to highlight the authority's other priorities.

The HTA calls them destination management action plans - or DMAP.

The process to create each DMAP began with the formation of steering committees to discuss concerns and develop a plan to address those concerns.

"We wanted to make sure that they not only represented various sectors, but also the communities that they were from," said Caroline Anderson, HTA's director of community enrichment.

"We made sure that not only the visitor industry was represented, but also we had members from the Hawaiian culture community, natural resources and other sectors like agriculture."

Anderson says each plan is tailored to address the concerns of each island community. Although each county has specific issues that they want to resolve, there are common threads throughout the state.

Anderson says a common thread among all the plans is the need for better management and identifying areas where there is or can be overcrowding.

Egged is also member of the O?ahu steering committee. He says he hopes the plan will open and maintain a line of communication and collaboration between the community and HTA.

"There will always be issues. It's a huge industry, it's the number one industry in the state," he said. "The question is not are you gonna solve all the problems, but are you able to work together to address all the issues. And where we have an ongoing difficulty that might cause problems to the community, how are you going to address it?"

So far, plans have been finalized for Kaua?i, Maui and Hawai?i Counties. Aspects of those plans are now starting to be implemented.

O?ahu’s steering committee is now reviewing submitted comments on their plan. It will then update and submit a final draft to HTA’s board of directors.

Anderson believes a board-approved version will be released sometime around August.

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