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Shuttles help stranded Hawaii visitors as summer tourism heats up

As summer tourism heats up, Hawaii tourism officials are looking for ways to mitigate impacts for residents and visitors suffering from serious ground transportation shortages.

This weekend, visitors to Maui will be able to use a new shuttle service from Kahului Airport to West Maui and Wailea called the Maui Aloha Shuttle.

Maui’s pilot shuttle program will run from Saturday through July 17 and be subsidized by the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau, which collaborated on the effort with the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the state Department of Transportation and Polynesian Adventure Tours. Kauai County’s development of a pilot shuttle program between Lihue Airport and resort areas kicked off in early June.

Rental car shortages and other transportation woes have become such a problem for Hawaii’s recovering visitor industry that HTA is supporting the development of shuttles on Maui and Kauai, and has put together a list of alternate ground transportation options for visitors.

The shuttles have come just in time. By all accounts, summer travel demand has outpaced supply chains across the isles.

“Word has gotten out about Hawaii’s ground transportation challenges,” said Sue Kanoho, Kauai Visitors Bureau executive director. “Some people may keep their commitments to come to Hawaii, but others won’t if we can’t accommodate them. We went to HTA, and we said, ‘This is serious, It’s not fair to let people come here and be stranded.’”

Kanoho said HTA listened, and other partners like taxis, Uber and Lyft, and Turo, where people rent their personal cars, have stepped up, too.

“It’s getting better. We used to have 20 to 30 people stranded at the airport every day. Now it’s like 10,” she said. “It’s critical that we help people, and the shuttle certainly has made a difference.”

Hawaii finished out the last day of June with 33,760 traveler screenings from trans-Pacific arrivals, according to data compiled by the Hawaii Tourism Authority from Safe Travels information. As many as 17,323 of these passengers went to Honolulu, with another 9,246 headed to Kahului, some 3,965 to Kona, 219 to Hilo and 3,008 to Lihue.

The summer swell is expected to intensify this Fourth of July weekend, and on Thursday the state is expected to begin offering a vaccination exemption that will ease Safe Travels entry for domestic travelers. It’s still uncertain whether the state will ride the wave of pent-up travel demand into fall, which is traditionally a softer travel season, but many hotels and attractions already are sold out or filling up for the peak end-of-the-year holiday season.

Maui Mayor Mike Victorino has been asking airlines to pause some of their flights into Maui, where he said airports are operating at over capacity and the return of tourism is straining the community.

Recent surveys conducted by the HTA show that visitor and resident satisfaction is down, adding credence to the agency’s effort to conduct destination management action plans, which seek input from communities on how to manage tourism to meet their needs.

HTA President and CEO John De Fries told the HTA board at the June 24 meeting that a key focus of the agency’s next 60 to 90 days will be “Malama Ku’u Home,” or “caring for our beloved home.”

De Fries said “malama is a call to action” and that change is “necessary to support the revitalization of Hawaii’s economy and community.”

Residents need to be informed of HTA’s efforts to partner with the community to manage tourism, and visitors need to be educated how on how to care for Hawaii and its residents, he said.

He said the time is now for HTA to implement a new organizational structure and to take the knowledge that it has gathered from community outreach and turn it into “meaningful and impactful action.”

HTA said both of the Maui and Kaui shuttle initiatives came out of their Destination Management Action Plan, which was aimed at allowing communities to have a voice in the type of visitor industry and tourism experiences in their neighborhoods. HTA said the DMAP process, which came out of HTA’s 2020-to-2025 strategic plan, “focuses on key actions that the community, visitor industry and other sectors deem necessary over a three-year period.”

NEW SHUTTLE SERVICE

Visitors can find more information about the shuttles at www.polyad.com.

MAUI

Maui Aloha Shuttle will run from Saturday through July 17. The shuttle service to West Maui will cost $50 one-way for adults, $35 for children 4-12 years old, and it’s free for children 3 and under. Passengers headed to Wailea will pay $35 one-way for adults, $20 for children 4-12 years old and nothing for children 3 and under.

KAUAI

Polynesian Adventure is operating a “Hop On Hop Off” shuttle service on Kauai called the Aloha Shuttle, which offers three routes to Poipu, Kapaa and Princeville and stops at resorts and attractions with nearby shopping and dining options. An all-day pass for one route starts around $20; multiroute super-saver passes also are available.

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