Due to the oversaturation of tourists, Hawaii is struggling to maintain its natural environment. In response, Gov. Josh Green has proposed House Bill 442, which would require tourists to purchase a $50 annual license on top of existing fees and taxes; if passed through the statehouse, the new bill will apply to any tourists who plan to use the state’s natural beaches, parks, forests, and hiking trails.
Hawaii is one of the most popular vacation spots in the world, with 9.4 million tourists visiting just last year. As a result, the state is suffering from many environmental losses, such as the endangerment of native species, damage to coral reefs, and loss of coastal beaches due to rising sea levels.
There have been talks among state leaders about introducing tourist fees to help the environment in the past, but such a law has yet to be put in place. The Hawaii Green Free coalition hopes to build on previous momentum this year.
Green promised to introduce a climate impact fee during his campaign for governor to raise money for state conservation efforts. The funds raised by this new ‘green fee’ is estimated to raise as much as 600 million dollars per year.
Many favor this notion, including Hawaii Senate President Ron Kouchi: “Our residents have been clear. Visitors should be paying for their impact on our natural resources. When they are a guest in our house, they should treat our home like they would hope we treat their home when we visit.”
However, opponents say that this fee would charge tourists unnecessarily. The Tax Foundation of Hawaii says this would conflict with the U.S. Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities clause, which bans states from discriminating against out-of-state visitors.
An alternative approach is to use the revenues from the state’s transient accommodations fee, which charges tourists 10.25% in taxes for staying at hotels and other rentals. However, the Hawaii Green Free coalition opposes this idea because it would take away from other local services instead of providing a separate fund for conservation efforts.
The bill has been deferred as of the start of this month, but time is ticking for the natural environment. Gov. Josh Green noted, “If we don’t take substantial action, not only will the visitor experience be degraded, more importantly, we will have failed to be good caretakers of the Hawaii we call home.”