Hawaii Wants Visitors to Help Pay for Environmental Impact

    10 April 2023

    Taking care of Hawaii's natural environment takes time, people and money. Now the U.S. state wants tourists to help pay for it. That is because growing numbers of people are traveling to the islands to enjoy its outdoors.

    Hawaii lawmakers are considering legislation that would require visitors to pay for a yearlong license or pass to visit state parks. The money would be used to raise funds to protect the forests, coral reefs and wildlife that many people travel to the islands to enjoy.

    Josh Green is the state's Democratic governor. He said, "We get between nine and 10 million visitors a year, (but) we only have 1.4 million people living here."

    People spend time on the black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park in Hana, Hawaii, on Sept. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia, File)
    People spend time on the black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park in Hana, Hawaii, on Sept. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia, File)

    He added, "Those 10 million travelers should be helping us sustain our environment."

    Lawmakers still debating how much they would charge.

    The governor campaigned last year on the idea of having all tourists pay a $50 fee to enter the state. Legislators think this would violate U.S. constitutional protections for free travel. They instead think visitors should pay to enter parks and trails. Either policy would be a first of its kind for any U.S. state.

    Hawaii's leaders are following the example of other popular tourist areas with similar fees or taxes. They include Venice, Italy, and Ecuador's Galapagos Islands.

    Hawaii State Representative Sean Quinlan is the leader of the House Tourism Committee. He said changes in the activities of travelers are part of Hawaii's push. He said golf rounds per visitor per day have dropped 30 percent over the past 10 years while hiking has increased 50 percent.

    People are also seeking out isolated places they have seen on social media. The state does not have the money to oversee and protect all these places, he said.

    "All these places that didn't have visitors now have visitors," Quinlan said.

    Most state parks and trails are currently free. Some of the most popular ones already charge, like Diamond Head State Monument. That trail leads hikers from the floor of a 300,000-year-old volcano up to the top. It gets 1 million visitors each year and costs $5 for each traveler.

    A bill currently before the legislature would require visitors over the age of 15 to buy a yearly pass to visit forests, parks, trails or "other natural area on state land." People who live in Hawaii would not need to pay.

    A 2019 report by environmental group Conservation International estimated that total federal, state, county and private spending on conservation in Hawaii was $535 million. The need, however, was $886 million.

    The legislation says money raised from the fee would go into a special fund managed by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

    Mufi Hanneman is leader of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, which represents hotels. He supports the bill but said Hawaii must be sure the money is used correctly.

    "The last thing that you want to see is restrooms that haven't been fixed, trails or pathways that haven't been repaved...and year in, year out it remains the same and people are paying a fee," Hannemann said.

    I'm Dan Novak.

    Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.


    Words in This Story

    tourist — n. a person who travels to a place for pleasure

    sustain — v. to provide what is needed for to exist, continue, etc.

    fee — n. an amount of money that must be paid

    golf — n. an outdoor game in which players use special clubs to try to hit a small ball with as few strokes as possible into each of 9 or 18 holes

    hike — n. to walk a long distance especially for pleasure or exercise

    isolated — adj. separate from others