The 10 Million Visitor Challenge

Mar 22, 2019

Waikiki Beach
Credit Cristo Vlahos / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Ten million visitors a year may be a goal for some, but it’s an overwhelming number for others. Hotel executive and tourism marketing experts sat down with Pacific Business News to talk about their current challenges and opportunities.

The potential impacts of Hawaiʻi now receiving nearly 10 million visitors per year were top of mind for the tourism executives we met with. Frank Haas, travel marketing consultant and former executive with the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, points out that while the numbers can strain everything from roads to sewers overall, the biggest impacts are felt at specific visitor destinations.

Haas, also on the board of Hawaiʻi Public Radio, cites Maunawili Falls and Diamond Head Crater of examples of places where the visitor numbers could overwhelm capacity.

Says Haas, “At some point, those sites are overused and we have to think about how to manage them, whether it’s controls and restrictions, or pricing, and we need to do that before it gets to be a crisis.”

We’ve seen examples of this locally already. Hanauma Bay is closed on Tuesdays. Haleakalā now limits sunrise access. It’s a global problem, as a rising middle class flocks to famous sites. The Philippines and Thailand last year both had to close popular beaches entirely, if temporarily, to let them recover.

Another thing the executives talk about managing differently is Hawaiʻi’s visitor mix. In adjusted dollars, visitor spending now is about the same as it was in 1989, only it takes 3.5 million more visitors to get it. 

Kelly Hoen, with Outrigger Hospitality Group, says that weddings, conventions, corporate meetings and other events, all attract bigger spenders and should be courted. It’s called channel shifting and hotels have executives devoted to it for their individual properties. The industry as whole, she says, needs to take that approach for Hawaiʻi.