As markets have moved upward from the abyss of the Great Recession, and consumer confidence grows, people are traveling in record numbers. With less emphasis on acquiring stuff and a desire to instead have more “experiences,” tourism is booming.
Living on a small island that is also a very attractive place to visit, we see the impact daily. Tourism in Hawaii accounts for over half of the state’s GDP, with over 9 million visitors spending nearly $17 billion in 2017. Kauai had 1.7 million visitors, so, averagely speaking, there are 20,000 visitors on any given day and many more in peak periods. The permanent resident population is app. 70,000.
A question we are often asked: “What’s the best time to come to (Hawaii / Kauai)?” Until recently, we thought we had a good answer. Any time other than the peak visitor periods, and probably good to avoid August and September when it can be uncomfortably warm and humid.
Well, there was no historic lull in visitors in February. In addition to U.S. and Canada visitors, I hear more European and Asian languages, and lots of Aussie and Kiwi accents. Airlines have added more flights from the mainland and Asia. Most days it feels like there are more rental cars on the single road that traverses 3/4s of the island than local vehicles. Parking at popular beaches means arriving early in the day or waiting a long time, hoping for a space. Thanks to social media, even the more obscure beaches and trails are usually besieged with rental cars.
So it appears that in 2017 and going into this year, there will be no real off-peak times. How this impacts the quality of life for residents and the experience for visitors is a growing discussion topic. Congestion is one issue. Staffing to serve a growing number of visitors is another issue. With a 2% unemployment rate and a limited labor force, help wanted signs are everywhere. Peripheral issues like a growing waste stream become a big deal on a small island.
Kauai is not the only island dealing with these challenges. An advanced reservation is required to see the sunrise over Haleakala on Maui. Hanauma Bay State Park on Oahu controls access and closes each Tuesday to give the fish a break from 3000 daily visitors. Limiting daily access to some Kauai beaches is a recurring topic.
Some folks have conjectured that the storms that pummeled the Caribbean have temporarily pushed more visitors to Hawaii. Maybe. But then Hawaiian Airlines just ordered up to 20 Boeing 787 Dreamliners to add capacity so a significant decline in tourist activity does not seem likely.
We enjoy showing guests this unique and beautiful island and giving them a little taste of island life. We want everyone to have the same great experience that we have enjoyed as visitors and residents. But how much of a good thing is too much is a growing concern.