Hawaii & Alaska
BRYAN BERKOWITZ / The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

HI - Frustrated residents push back as Hawaii tourism resurges

Kai Nishiki and other frustrated Maui residents got up early Saturday and armed themselves with beach chairs, umbrellas and towels to storm Wailea Beach and push back the increasing ranks of tourists who have been flocking to the island, overtaking popular spots locals got used to having to themselves after COVID-19 virtually shut down the visitor industry.

“Residents are uncomfortable in our own space. We want the government and tourists to feel for themselves exactly how uncomfortable we are,” said Nishiki, a community activist who organized the “Take Back Our Beach” event, promising more to come until action is taken.

“Our communities are feeling pushed out and marginalized, as if our only value is to be a backdrop for vacation photos.”

The faster-than-expected pace of the recovery is good for Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy, but it’s also created a sense of urgency to improve tourism management, especially in pockets of the state that were already battling for balance before the pandemic hit.

Angela Keen, a founder of Hawaii Kapu Quarantine Breakers, said she’s getting complaints from hotel workers and activity providers who are concerned that some visitors “aren’t sensitive to our ways and our culture and our willingness to wear masks to protect our neighbors.”

“Hostility is rising,” Keen said. “The tourism industry needs hooponopono (to make things right) with locals, otherwise they’re going to be at a place where they are trying to bring in visitors and locals are not going to be nice to them. They aren’t going to have the aloha that they normally had.”

Saturday’s “Take Back Our Beach” event calling on residents to pack the beach fronting the Four Seasons and the Grand Wailea resorts was a clear line in the sand against what Nishiki described as “unchecked tourism growth and poor tourism management.”

The Maui County Council has taken notice and is considering measures that would reserve at least half of all public beach access parking for residents, and for visitors to be charged parking fees.

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