The Honolulu City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a bill calling for the creation of a “Keep Hawaii Hawaii” program for visitors to the City and County of Honolulu.

Bill 51, which now awaits consideration by the council’s Committee on Business, Economic Development and Tourism, explains that the “pledge awareness” program would be similar to the Pono Pledge campaign of Hawaii island and the Aloha Pledge of Kauai. “Both of which are aimed at promoting visitor awareness and on-island behaviors that are as environmentally responsible and culturally sensitive as possible,” the bill states.

We credit Councilwoman Kymberly Pine for introducing the legislation, which suggests the city agency in charge of Keep Hawaii Hawaii (the mayor would decide which agency) might partner with the other three counties, the visitor industry, select businesses and nonprofits to promote the program.

The challenge of getting tourists to be more sensitive is a big one, however, and may require much more than Pine’s low-cost approach. With annual visitor arrivals expected to surpass 10 million by the end of this year, Hawaii is grappling with how to preserve its irreplaceable natural attractions while keeping up infrastructure to accommodate all the arrivals from the east and west.

Waikiki Hilton Hawaiian Village Hale Koa Hotel aerial Waikiki Beach 0324.
Waikiki is the mecca of Hawaii’s tourism industry. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Two recent installments of Civil Beat’s continuing series, Tourism’s Tipping Point, considered what other popular but overrun traveler destinations are doing to nurture their “product” — or more specifically, to keep beaches clean, maintain trails, properly dispose of waste, plant more trees, manage water use and a host of other necessary work.

One article shared the concept of “green fees” — new taxes and fees on visitors. The idea comes from the environmental group Conservation International, which presented the idea at a recent conference on the Big Island.

The organization estimates Hawaii needs an additional $358 million a year to take care of bio-cultural resources and ecosystems. A mandatory visitor fee of $38.50 would cover that gap.

An executive with Hawaiian Airlines, which helped sponsor the conference, called the report on green fees a worthy starting point for serious discussion. Agreed.

The other article in our series examined how tourism can pay its own way through eco-taxes to offset the “invisible burden” that comes from too many visitors. It noted that the Hawaii Tourism Authority is now spending almost one-fourth of its roughly $90 million budget on programs “that promote safety, protect natural resources and perpetuate Native Hawaiian culture.”

We recognize there may be legal challenges with levying a green fee or eco-tax, which amount to the same thing. We know that guests to the islands are already shelling out a lot of cash on air travel, car rentals, hotel rooms, food and drink and the taxes that go with all that. And there is certain to be pushback from all the industries associated with leisure travel.

But if Hawaii doesn’t do more to keep Hawaii Hawaii, what we have to offer the rest of the world will lose its value and travelers will take their money elsewhere.

Let’s start talking about this. A good place to begin is tourism committees in the Hawaii Legislature, which could hold briefings on the tourism tax proposals when they begin to convene in January.

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