Hawaii & Alaska
Cory Lum / Honolulu Civil Beat

HI - Eric Stinton: How Do We Transform Hawaii's Complicated Relationship With Tourists?

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us what we gain -- and lose -- from having so many visitors in the islands.

I can’t be the only one who caught a little buzz of schadenfreude from the recent rains. I usually enjoy this kind of weather anyway, but it was especially gratifying to know that the first few days of the return of tourism were somewhat rained out.

I’m not particularly proud of my kneejerk reaction; I’m inclined to believe it’s never good to feel that sort of cruel satisfaction, especially when it’s applied to real people I have never met. But now that we’re returning to the same old new normal – lots of tourists, but with masks and social distancing required – visitors have become much more obvious, more intrusive even.

There have always been reasons to bristle at the presence of tourists. They make traffic worse, they crowd beaches and sidewalks, they’re loud, they litter. They’re not alone in any of those contributions, and not every tourist fits that description, but enough of them do to make it easy to lump them all in together. Earlier in the pandemic, the absence of tourists was a small pleasantry in an otherwise endless cascade of anxiety.

Suffice to say, my relationship with tourists is complicated. Judging by the growing chorus of calls to start thinking of how we can pivot the local economy away from tourism – or at least diversify enough to significantly reduce our dependence on it – I don’t think it’s just me.

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