Editorial | Our View Column: Keep, fix Hawaii Tourism Authority; add ‘green fees’ March 19, 2023 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! Hawaii is at a precarious point in its tourism recovery, on two levels. The natural resources that draw visitors here are in need of recovery, with the increasing impact of travelers on shorelines, mountain trails and other attractions. Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. Hawaii is at a precarious point in its tourism recovery, on two levels. The natural resources that draw visitors here are in need of recovery, with the increasing impact of travelers on shorelines, mountain trails and other attractions. Second, the industry has mounted a comeback from the depths of the pandemic shutdown, but the job is not really finished. The extent to which the Asian market will resume its traditional position in visitor arrivals is still uncertain, and the initial rush of mainland U.S. tourism has long since eased off. The Legislature is poised to make two key changes to tourism management, one of them critically necessary, before Hawaii’s prized natural assets are allowed to degrade further. Senate Bill 304 is the surviving measure of several proposals to collect a visitor impact fee from tourists who then would receive a license to visit specified state parks, forest areas, hiking trails or other state natural areas. Also described as a “green fee,” this was the direction that lawmakers took, an approach preferable to what Gov. Josh Green originally proposed: a fee to be assessed of every tourist upon arrival. Unfortunately, this more positive development is happening within the context of a general upheaval in the way the state implements its tourism policy. The selection of a new director for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) is unsettled, for starters. Nominee Chris Sadayasu ran into trouble at Thursday’s hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy, Economic Development and Tourism. Among other things, he was justifiably criticized for issuing a request for proposals on a tourism marketing contract without consulting the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA). Sadayasu said timing and the Sunshine Law precluded him from consulting ahead of the HTA’s next meeting, but that could have been better planned to avoid the conflict. Amid the uncertainty over the department’s overall direction, the proposed restructuring of HTA (Senate Bill 1522) comes at an inopportune time. Worse, there seems no good reason for the drastic overhaul, which essentially would turn HTA into an entity under DBEDT, as the Office of Destination Management. The House Committee on Tourism took up both the “green fee” and HTA bills last week. Legislators in both chambers are aiming to refocus HTA more narrowly on mitigating how tourism affects the island environment, rather than on industry marketing. However, the House panel is taking a softer approach, adding funds and positions and voting to excise the Senate’s flatly punitive preamble in SB 1522. This introductory section asserts that the HTA “has failed to effectively execute its duties to manage the tourism marketing plan for the state.” It recounted the controversial issuance — and reissuance — of management and marketing contracts, lay the blame squarely on HTA and seeks to dissolve the agency. The contractual snafu was mishandled, but dismantling HTA would be an unproductive disruption. Creating a new agency, rather than fixing the one in place, right while tourism is sorting itself out? Not a good idea. While SB 1522’s preamble gave a dubious rationale for the repeal of HTA, in striking it from the bill, the House did not replace it with any rationale, either. The original idea behind HTA was that a single agency to oversee the state’s primary industry made sense. Some 25 years later, it still makes sense — which is more than can be said of SB 1522. It is encouraging, meanwhile, to be able to see the environmental “green fee” benefits of SB 304. It’s undoubtedly a good thing that the visitor impact fee would be shepherded by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, keeping it apart from whatever happens in tourism governance. DLNR would set the date for starting the program through administrative rule-making, a process that should begin as soon as possible. Under the current draft of the bill, the department would enable “convenient opportunities for visitors to pay a visitor impact fee and be issued a license,” including through a mobile app and an internet website. The fee would be payable by any visitor age 15 and up who wants to access the state areas, and the license would be good for a year. Revenue would go to a dedicated fund from which DLNR may allocate money aligning with an impact fee strategic plan it also will develop. Grants could be made to counties and to nonprofit organizations, prioritizing projects that address environmental stresses that tourism and residential use may have caused at the natural sites. This all constitutes a rational expansion of user fees already deployed at some locations — Pali Lookout, Diamond Head and Kauai’s Haena State Park, among them. SB 304 cites several visitor destinations worldwide, including the Galapagos Islands, New Zealand and Palau, that have implemented such a plan with success. Properly executed, success also could be in the cards for Hawaii, a place endowed with natural resources that must not be taken for granted. Previous Story Editorial: Protecting abortion rights Next Story Column: Isn’t it time to stop making electricity more expensive?