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Cataluna: Other places attempting to manage over-tourism

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We don’t have tourists peeing in window flowerboxes — well, at least no reports of that happening — but some of the other descriptions are familiar.

The Atlantic’s September issue has an article about what they call the “Dutch War on Tourists” which describes a situation similar to Hawaii’s troubles but far more extreme.

“In the era of cheap flights and Airbnb, their numbers are staggering. Some 19 million tourists visited the Netherlands last year, more people than live there.”

Hawaii exceeds that imbalance, and there seems to be no end to the constant push for more flights, more passengers, more accommodations, more more more.

The piece about the Netherlands’ situation describes tourists peeing in window flowerboxes, jamming up daily life and taking over what used to be residential neighborhoods.

“To combat it, the city recently passed various pieces of legislation, including a moratorium on new hotel construction in much of the city; new fines (140 euros for public urination or drunk and disorderly conduct); new restrictions on Airbnb rentals (30 nights a year per unit); and a combination of bans and restrictions on new tourist- centric businesses, such as bike-rental outfits and doughnut shops, in the historic city center. … Perhaps most telling, earlier this year the Dutch tourism board officially shifted its mission from ‘destination promotion’ to ‘destination management.’”

Introducing the concept of “destination management” when there are more tourists than residents might prove to be too late.

Hawaii still has a chance.

What always comes up in response to criticism of the impact of the ever- growing tourism industry, whether it’s opposition to another hotel, vacation rentals violating neighborhood zoning or beach concessions operating on public land, is the argument that Hawaii’s economy depends on tourism. This is true, but it doesn’t make sense to keep putting more eggs into that overfull basket.

The other argument that comes up is that saying there are too many tourists is akin to wanting to keep out all outsiders. It’s not, though. It’s not about people, it’s about numbers. It’s like when you go into a public hall and there’s a sign posted near the door with the maximum capacity of the room. At a certain point the room is full, and squeezing anybody else in, regardless of who they are or where they came from, makes it unsafe for everyone and less fun for all.

For the most part, visitors to Hawaii aren’t bad guests. There’s been no rampant window flowerbox peeing, though there are occasional bar fights and road hazards from frequent crazy beach parking situations. It would be great if there weren’t so many tourists getting lost and hurt on rogue hiking expeditions or while attempting dangerous selfies or getting in big surf. But one to one, interpersonally, when they’re people and not massive swarms, their presence is generally welcomed.

This seems to be the summer of discontent, when tourism worldwide crossed the line from being an economic engine to an all- consuming machine. Hawaii doesn’t need to declare war, like the Dutch, but the state should, and in some ways already has, switching from promotion to management.

Reach Lee Cataluna at 529-4315 or

Correction: More than 9 million tourists visit Hawaii each year, far exceeding the 1.4 million state residents. A previous version of this column said Hawaii is nowhere near the imbalance of tourists to residents that occurs in the Netherlands, where 19 million annual tourists outnumber residents.
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