Implement A Visitor Green Fee To Safeguard Our Future - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Jack Kittinger

John N. (“Jack”) Kittinger is the senior director of the Global Fisheries and Aquaculture Program in Conservation International’s Center for Oceans and a professor of practice in Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability and Global Futures Laboratory.

The ongoing pandemic provides an unprecedented opportunity to re-shape our economy and our tourism sector to ensure that we improve the visitor experience while also supporting a diverse economy that provides jobs for our residents. A mechanism to do this exists in a “visitor green fee” initiative.

Two key measures currently under consideration in the Legislature would establish such a program — SB666 and HB805. Additionally, SB1312 proposes to create a special fund to meet the goals of the Aloha+ Challenge.

For decades, our investments in Hawaii’s ecosystems have fallen further and further behind the returns we have demanded of them. This has serious social and environmental consequences that we are already seeing and that will decimate the future of our tourism industry. 

Kaimana Beach is just one spot of many in the islands where visitors regularly enjoy the beauty of Hawaii’s natural environment. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2021

Tourism cannot flourish in a place where its oceans are dirty with pollution or its forests are overrun by invasive species. Of course, neither can our communities.

The reality is our irreplaceable natural capital lacks the investment we require to protect Hawaii’s environment. Each year, we spend more than $500 million on conservation efforts yet the need is closer to $1 billion per year. This gap in investment places all of us at risk and represents a huge unfunded liability that we are passing to our keiki.

A visitor green fee is a solution to both this long-term issue and our current economic crisis. The bills under consideration seek to establish a $40 fee assessed to each visitor to Hawaii, creating a dedicated funding mechanism to support our priceless ecosystems and natural resources.

If one of these bills becomes law, it would begin the process of creating thousands of green jobs in our communities, using non-resident dollars.

We can use this revenue, as many other destinations do, to put our residents back to work, restoring the land that sustains us and drives tourists to our shores.

Our communities need a wide array of jobs to ensure a sustainable future: jobs restoring key ecosystems that residents and visitors alike enjoy, jobs protecting our unique and iconic species, jobs ensuring that our forests and mountains can keep our freshwater flowing and our shorelines and coasts resilient to the increasing onslaught of threats from the climate crisis.

We are already doing this, but we need to do much more of it. The CARES Act stimulus allowed Kupu, a local nonprofit, to establish Aina Corps, which created hundreds of green jobs across our islands. The impacts of this program were nothing short of incredible.

Aina Corps trainees restored over 21,000 acres, generated $6.5 million in economic impact and placed 6 out of 10 participants into new opportunities. The stories of personal transformation are powerful. Through a visitor green fee, we can scale these efforts up and create an enduring workforce in a sector of our economy that is already poised for growth.

A visitor green fee is a solution to both this long-term issue and our current economic crisis.

There will inevitably be those who say that imposing additional costs on travelers to our state will hurt tourism. However, this has not been the case in other places like Palau, the Galapagos and New Zealand, where visitor green fees have been a key solution to get visitors more engaged in pro-environment and community-centric tourism models.

We can use a visitor green fee, as other locales have done, to provide the means for a more authentic visitor experience shaped by a more empowered resident community. 

A year ago, we could not imagine stopping every visitor arriving in our Aloha State. Now we cannot imagine not stopping every visitor as a safety shield. This shift in what we require of visitors provides an opportunity to engage tourists in a way that both ensures our health and safety and educates and engages visitors — many of whom are long-time “temporary residents” who love our islands like we do — in being part of the solution.

In a recent survey by Ward Research, 75% of Hawaii residents who responded supported establishing a fee applied to certain services tourists use (like rental cars and hotels) that would generate money that could be used to protect land, water and wildlife impacted by tourism in Hawaii.

Nearly the same majority of residents polled in the survey supported an array of climate actions funded by a bolstered investment in conservation and resiliency efforts, such as ensuring the food supply remains reliable as the climate changes, preventing the spread of invasive species, restoring wetland areas that provide protection against floods and restoring forest areas in ways that reduce the risk of fire and provide reliable sources of fresh water. 

Generations who came before us understood how dependent we are on this environment for our well-being. This truth is still evident today. A visitor green fee offers a rare win-win situation: a new way of generating revenue that doesn’t tax our own residents and generates green jobs in a growth sector for our economy, while also ending our path of over-use and under-investment in the environment.

Let us collectively put our support behind this solution, which supports our economic recovery while ensuring that we care for our islands in a way that sustains future generations.  

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About the Author

Jack Kittinger

John N. (“Jack”) Kittinger is the senior director of the Global Fisheries and Aquaculture Program in Conservation International’s Center for Oceans and a professor of practice in Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability and Global Futures Laboratory.

Latest Comments (0)

Palau (where I serve as a Supreme Court Justice) has a $100 visitor green fee. By all reports, the program is working well in promoting conservation of Palau’s natural resources.

judgefoley · 2 years ago

Green fees which will be ultimately used for "The Rail" the "Biki Bike" failure. More ways to milk the sacred cow's that float this economy. Who thinks this stuff up? Those who created these specific problems to begin with, this is just another band aid. What should have been implemented year's ago was to tax/levy the real estate developer's to include these types of float monies / green fees etc. Remember, this state bases it's income on taxes of it's citizens, tourism & in very small part but the military installation that's been built into this economy for decades. Let's make the tourist pay more & ultimately give them reasons to travel elsewhere and spend their money at that location.Money can always move from right hip pocket national bank to left hip pocket national bank.

Kavaloha · 2 years ago

Hearing on SB666 was scheduled today for next Wed, Feb. 17, at 3:30 pm by the Senate Committee on Energy, Economic Development, and Tourism.

Slammer · 2 years ago

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