As travel becomes increasingly possible, Maui in the US state of Hawaii is already experiencing problems with too many people visiting the destination. At a recent news conference Maui mayor has even asked airlines to bring fewer tourists.
1. A popular destination
Overtourism in Maui was already a problem pre-Covid, with congested roads, crowded beaches and packed restaurants leading to complaints from locals. The Covid-19 pandemic and the halt on travel meant that for nearly a year Maui was without tourists, however as restrictions lift, the popular holiday destination has seen the visitors flooding back. As with other mainland states, it is seeing issues such as a shortage of hospitality workers and its restaurants, still operating at limited capacity, are struggling to keep up. As mainlanders return to Maui en masse, Maui officials are now asking airlines to not bring so many people to their island.
We don’t have the authority to say stop, but we are asking the powers to be to help usMichael Victorino, Mayor of Maui
2. Covid-19 restrictions in Maui
During the Covid-19 pandemic Hawaii has enforced some of the nation’s strictest public health restrictions and is the only state that hasn’t fully reopened. This is partly due to its remote location and limited number of hospitals, as well as the ever present traumatic memory of the diseases that wiped out 80% of the Native Hawaiian population in the century after Europeans arrived. The Hawaiian governor doesn’t plan on lifting all restrictions until 70% of the state’s population is vaccinated, (this figure is currently around 58%) but as US other states ease their rules many people are choosing to visit Hawaii, especially as some overseas travel is still restricted. Maui is popular with holidaymakers from the U.S. mainland, where the rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations has been strong.
The island can’t keep up with tourism demandMichael Victorino, Mayor of Maui
3. Return to pre-Covid levels of tourism
According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, 215,148 visitors came to the island in May compared to just 1,054 during the same month last year. This figure is not far off May 2019 when 251,665 visitors arrived, and is expected to increase further. Restaurants are operating at 50% capacity and are struggling, and although eateries are now allowed to start filling 75% of their seats, employee shortages and a 2 metre distancing requirement between tables makes this difficult.
4. Overtourism in Maui
At his news conference the mayor spoke about illegal parking along the famous Hana Highway, where tourists pull over to take pictures, blocking traffic and causing worries about what would happen if a fire truck or ambulance needed to pass. He also stated that Maui’s main airport in Kahului is also overcrowded, taxing its emergency services. “It’s the airlift that really drives all of this,” he said, using an airline industry term for transporting people and cargo. “Without airlift, people don’t come.” Victorino said he has asked airlines to voluntarily limit seats to Maui, however he declined to say which airlines he has spoke to and the companies are under no obligation to do as he asks, so it is unclear if any will.
Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Alex Da Silva said that as “Hawaii’s hometown airline,” the company is conscious of the pressure the rebound in arrivals has put on the destination’s infrastructure, natural resources and communities however he also highlighted that visitors are the engine of the state’s economic recovery. Da Silva said Hawaiian Airlines looks forward to continuing to work with the mayor and other leaders to find solutions to the problems. Meanwhile Alaska Airlines said it is operating an average of 10 daily flights to Maui from the U.S. West Coast, similar to summer 2019, and said it understands residents’ concerns. The company recently met with the mayor and council members to discuss how they can “work together on responsibly rebuilding Maui’s tourism industry and economy.”