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Hawaii tourism agency considers 'Visitor Green Fee' to upkeep natural resources

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Hawaii tourism agency considers 'Visitor Green Fee' to upkeep natural resources

HONOLULU -- Another tourist tax will be considered when the legislature goes back into session. This one would be to protect the environment. It's called a Visitor Green Fee and it would levy a surcharge on visitors to Hawaii.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) is currently rebranding new models of tourism that would “rebuild, redefine and reset” how we manage visitors over the next three to four years. Its Destination Management Action Plan for Oahu suggests the state implement a “Regenerative Tourism Fee” to have visitors help pay for the natural resources they visit.

"We recognize the committment we have to make sure we make reinvestments into what make Hawaii unique. That's our natural resources, Hawaiian culture, and community," Hawaii Tourism Authority's Chief Brand Office Kalani Ka'ana'ana explained.

HTA plans to work with the state Legislature this coming session to craft a fee to raise money to pay for environmental management.

David Smith, Forestry and Wildlife Administrator at the Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW), state Department of Land and Natural Resources, supports the idea. He says DOFAW manages a quarter of the state's lands. Sometimes there's wear and tear on the land, but sometimes it's about managing literal foot traffic.

"There is a significant amount of impact. So [for example] if it's a wildlife sanctuary, you need to keep people back a certain distance. You need law enformcement, signage," he notes, saying the funds could help pay for that.

Smith also clarified he believes residents should also pay for environmental upkeep as well. UHERO, the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, agrees in an essay it posted Tuesday.

The Kailua Chamber of Commerce also says the funds are needed. The HTA highlighted Kailua as a hotspot due to the massive amount of tourists. Robert Reich, incoming persident of the Kailua Chamber of Commerce, likes the idea but expressed caution.

"Will the people who get the money- that being the state bureaucracy - will they do what's right and take care of what needs to be taken care of," Reich said.

No details are worked out at this point, but a bill that died at the legislature in 2020 suggested collecting $20 to $40 from each arriving visitor at the State's airports. HTA is aware that raising fees to come to an already expensive destination may deter some visitors.

"That's always a risk. Price sensitivity is something we are mindful of," answered Ka'ana'ana.

Visitors already pay the hotel's transient accommodation tax, the car rental tax, or user fees residents don't pay at places such as Hanauma Bay. One more question to consider: With all these other surcharges, will a Green Fee become too taxing for visitors to want to travel here?