by Greg Dickinson, The Telegraph, March 22, 2019
Tourism in Hawaii has reached “tipping point”, experts from the University of Hawaii have warned, as annual visitor numbers reach ten million on the small Pacific archipelago.
Over 2,000 miles off mainland USA, Hawaii has long been considered a dream holiday destination. However, with increased flight capacity bringing higher footfall to the islands, locals and industry experts have started voicing concerns about the looming impact of overtourism.
“We’re not at a crisis point yet. We’re at a tipping point. We have so many visitors, we need to get serious about creating management programs,” Frank Haas, a contributor to the University of Hawaii paper, told WFAA.
“Hawaii tourism shows signs of trouble,” their paper begins. “At risk both for its ability to maintain an acceptable quality of life for residents, quality of experience for visitors, and economic vitality for the state.
“Hawaii tourism has been negatively affected by rapid growth, diminishing economic contributions, and the lack of a comprehensive tourism management plan.”
Southwest Airlines recently announced it would begin operating 28 daily flights to Hawaii from late May. The airline will fly from San Diego, Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento, with plans to add further inter-island routes.
“At the peak of the service that we’ve already announced, we will be at 4,900 seats a day,” Southwest’s senior director Steven Swan said. “That’s 2,800 interisland air seats and 2,100 trans-Pacific air seats daily that have been added to the Hawaii market.”
The University of Hawaii's white paper looks into how tourists are spending less money on their holidays in Hawaii. The authors of the paper have theorised that with the new Southwest routes, Hawaii Air may be forced to lower its inter-island flight prices, allowing visitors more money to spend on the ground.
Hawaii isn’t the first archipelago to feel the negative effects of tourism. Twenty years ago, the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand were practically unknown, making it the perfect filming location of the The Beach. Following the release of the film, however, Phi Phi's popularity soared. At its peak, as many as 5,000 people started arriving each day on boat trips, prompting the Thai authorities to close Maya Bay last summer to give the surrounding coral reef a chance to recover.
A decade ago, Boracay in the Philippines was but a peaceful, powder-soft island reserved for more intrepid tourists. Today, according to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, it’s a “cesspool”. His verdict came last year after a video released showing sewage flowing directly into Boracay’s blue waters went viral.
The controversial leader castigated local authorities for permitting unchecked development and dispatched an emergency government taskforce to save the island from an ecological catastrophe. Inspectors found over 800 environmental violations, and it was closed to tourists.
Perhaps the most infamous of them all is Bali, Indonesia’s capital of hedonism. Its emergence as a packaged paradise for international consumption began in 1963, with the opening of the Bali Beach Hotel in Sanur. Until then just three hotels existed on the entire island. But many more would follow, and in 1970 the construction of Ngurah Rai International Airport opened the floodgates.
Sanur remains a tourist hub, but it has been joined by Kuta, Seminyak, Ubud, and newer developments like Pecatu and Nusa Dua.
The surge in visitors has contributed to Bali's environmental problems. Late last year the government declared a “garbage emergency” after several of the country's most popular beaches were inundated with a tide of plastic waste. Workers sent in to Jimbaran, Kuta and Seminyak beaches, among the busiest, were carting off up to 100 tons of rubbish each day at the peak of the clean-up.
The authors of the Hawaii tourism paper hope for a state-level plan for tourism, to find ways to manage its growing popularity and take full economic advantage of the forthcoming influx of visitors.