Hawaii is considering a $50 fee to enter the state

Caring for Hawaii’s unique natural environment costs money, and now the state wants tourists to help pay for it.

HONOLULU – Repairing coral reefs after boats run aground. Protecting native forest trees from a killer fungus outbreak. Patrolling waters for swimmers who harass dolphins and turtles.

Caring for Hawaii’s unique natural environment takes time, people and money. Now Hawaii wants tourists to help pay for it, especially as more people head to the islands to enjoy the natural beauty — including some lured by dramatic views they’ve spotted on social media .

“All I honestly want to do is hold travelers accountable and have an opportunity to pay for the impact they’re having,” Democratic Gov. Josh Green said earlier this year. “We have between nine and ten million visitors a year, (but) we only have 1.4 million people living here. These 10 million travelers should help us to protect our environment.”

Hawaii legislature consider laws tourists would have to pay for a year-long license or pass to visit state parks and trails. They are still debating how much they would charge.

The governor last year championed a platform that required all tourists to pay a $50 fee to enter the state. Lawmakers believe this would violate the US Constitution’s constitutional protections for freedom of travel and have instead promoted their Parks and Trails approach. Each policy would be a first of its kind for any US state.

Hawaii’s leaders are following the example of other tourism hotspots that have levied similar fees or taxes, such as Venice, Italy and Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. The Pacific island nation of Palau, for example, is charging incoming international passengers $100 to help it manage a sprawling marine sanctuary and promote ecotourism.

Rep. Sean Quinlan, a Democrat who chairs the House Tourism Committee, said changing travel patterns are one reason for Hawaii’s push. He said rounds of golf per visitor per day have declined by 30% over the past decade, while hiking has increased by 50%. People are also looking for formerly obscure websites that they’ve seen someone post on social media. The state doesn’t have the money to manage all of these places, he said.

“It’s not like 20 years ago when you brought your family and maybe went to a famous beach or two and looked at Pearl Harbor. And that’s the extent of it,” Quinlan said. “Nowadays it’s like, well, you know, ‘I saw this post on Instagram and there’s this beautiful rope swing, a coconut tree.'”

“All these places that didn’t have visitors now have visitors,” he said.

Most state parks and hiking trails are currently free. Some of the most popular already have a fee, like Diamond Head State Monument, which features a trail that leads from the bottom of a 300,000-year-old volcanic crater to its summit. It is visited by 1 million visitors each year and costs $5 for each traveler.

A bill currently before the State House would require nonresidents ages 15 and older who visit forests, parks, hiking trails or “other natural areas on state lands” to purchase an annual license online or through a mobile app. Violators would pay a civil fine, although no penalties would be imposed during a five-year training and transition period.

Residents with a Hawaii driver’s license or other state identification would be exempt.

The Senate passed a version of the measure that set the fee at $50. But the House Treasury Committee amended it last week to remove the dollar amount. Chairman Kyle Yamashita, a Democrat, said the bill is “in the works.”

Dawn Chang, chair of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, told the committee that Hawaii’s beaches are open to the public, so people there likely wouldn’t be quoted — and such details have yet to be worked out.

Rep. Dee Morikawa, a Democrat on the committee, recommended the state create a list of locations that would require a license.

Green has indicated he is flexible about where the fee will be charged and is willing to support the lawmakers’ approach.

Supporters say there is no other place in the US that charges visitors a similar fee. The closest equivalent might be the $34.50 tax that Alaska levies on every cruise passenger.

Hawaii’s conservation needs are great. Invasive pests are attacking the state’s forests, including a fungal disease that kills Ohiaa tree unique to Hawaii that makes up most of the canopy in native wet forests.

Some conservation works respond directly to tourism. The harassment of wild animals like dolphins, turtles And Hawaiian monk seals is a recurring problem. Hikers can unknowingly bring invasive species into the forest with their boots. snorkelers and Boats trample on coralsputting additional stress on reefs already struggling with invasive algae and coral bleaching.

A 2019 report by Conservation International, an environmental nonprofit, estimates that total federal, state, local and private spending on conservation in Hawaii was $535 million, but the need was $886 million .

On the Diamond Head Trail recently, some visitors said the fee makes the most sense for people who come to Hawaii often or who may be staying for several weeks. Some said $50 was excessive, particularly for those who view nature walks as an inexpensive activity.

“For a large family that wants to have the experience with the kids, that would be a lot of money,” said Sarah Tripp, who is visiting Hawaii with her husband and two of their three children from Marquette, Michigan.

Katrina Kain, an English teacher from Puerto Rico, said she thought the fee would “sting” some people but would be fine as long as it was well advertised.

“If tourists were informed about this, they would be ok with it,” she said. “If that was a surprise $50 fee, it would be a pretty lousy surprise.”

The legislation states that proceeds would go to a “Visitor Fee Special Fund” administered by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Carissa Cabrera, project manager for the Hawaii Green Fee, a coalition of nonprofit groups supporting the measure, said it would ensure the state has money for conservation regardless of budget fluctuations.

Mufi Hanneman, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, which represents hotels, supports the bill but said Hawaii needs to carefully monitor how the money is used.

“The last thing you want to see is toilets that haven’t been repaired, trails or trails that haven’t been repaved, or whatever — and year after year it stays the same and people pay a fee,” Hannemann said.

https://www.kvue.com/article/news/nation-world/hawaii-mulls-fees-for-ecotourism-crush/507-31da7003-ac6a-4a74-b76e-da4eb688a8a7 Hawaii is considering a $50 fee to enter the state

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