Tourism success has consistently been measured by the number of visitors and number of hotels. So for decades, destinations have sought to increase the number of tourists.
The Hawaiian island of O’ahu is now doing the opposite. Their tourism strategy is to reduce the number of visitors, by decreasing the number of available beds, creating a big tourist tax, and making the island less attractive to overseas investment.
Home to Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor, O’ahu has long been a tourist hotspot. Overtourism has been a longstanding issue, made worse by the covid pandemic – Americans cannot travel to many international destinations, but for a tropical getaway there’s always Hawaii.
Many destinations have been trying to solve the problem of overtourism. The typical solution is to try and spread the tourists to new areas. For example, the Netherlands aims to get visitors out of Central Amsterdam to other destinations around the country.
But it’s hard to spread visitors out on an island. So O’ahu’s local residents have led a big shift in strategy. They’ve helped to change land use, zoning and airport policies, as well as limit how visitors can use private vehicles on the island.
Their big tourist tax is called “regenerative tourism fee”, with the money going to support local environment programs. Fewer tourists should improve the quality of life for the residents, but executive director of the O’ahu Visitors Bureau Noelani Schilling-Wheeler makes a different argument for the new strategy.
“Overtourism leads to a diminished experience for tourists. This has been a collaborative effort to steward tourism the way our people know it should be steered.”Noelani Schilling-Wheeler
So not just fewer visitors because it benefits the locals, fewer visitors because it makes tourism better for those who do visit. And if that means paying more for a visit, so be it.