In 2023, there was a bill, SB304, Governor Josh Green was supporting. Ultimately each vacationer over the age of 15 would have to pay a fee to visit beaches, parks, trails, etc. Either a fee of $25 or $50 has been discussed. The idea or also increasing the TAT tax has also been an object of discussion, but many have not been in favor of it.
The bill in its current state is called a “climate” bill and the proceeds are to go to keep the highly used areas maintained as well as cover the cost of many “green” initiatives around the islands. While keeping the Hawaiian islands nice, it does not seem like hitting vacationers with another fee is the route to go.
While the idea seems nice, the chances of the government being able to make it happen is highly unlikely. Within the past few decades the government has come up with similar ideas where if you did not not have a valid Hawaii drivers license you would be charged a fee when you entered a beach or park. Guard shacks were built at the entrances with staff there to check licenses and collect funds. On both occasions the system failed and the structures were removed. On top of that, they would need to put systems in place to manage the income and to assure the “climate” work gets done per the bill.
There have been several statements along the way by legislatures attempting to associate this bill with trying to help the problems at Lahaina. To be clear, Lahaina was not caused by vacationers so to bring tourists into that conversation at all is disappointing.
While the funds do sound like they are going to good causes, the Hawaii government should consider when is enough of charging visitors to the State of Hawaii fees or increased taxes. If you look over the course of the last few years, the State of Hawaii has seen record breaking TAT revenue. The table below shows the revenue for the State of Hawaii by quarters and please note that 2023 does not include the 4th quarter. Why does that money not get used towards some of the initiatives they seek to achieve through the fee? If you would like to see more of the tax data for Hawaii, you can here.
Over the course of time, the State of Hawaii has been known to increase the tax on visitors to the State of Hawaii. Here is the increase in transient accommodations taxes since its inception. As you can see the Hawaii transient accommodations tax is over double what it used to be.
This is just the increase in TAT. Visitors to the State of Hawaii also pay the GET that the residents pay. While TAT is the largest source of income, as mentioned earlier, the State of Hawaii has tried implementing smaller fees like they are trying to do with this bill in the past that causes for additional fees to tourists. You can view some of those that were added and increases back in 2020 here.
I am not opposed to the initiatives set forth in the bill, but rather than just continuing to hit the tourism industry for more money maybe the government should consider simply being better stewards of the money that is already coming in from the tourism industry. As it stands now, the city of Honolulu has the highest tourism tax of any place in the world with San Francisco and Los Angeles following.
Rob Dalton is the owner of Waikoloa Vacation Rentals and has lived on the Big Island of Hawaii for over 20 years.