Hauula resident Desirree Madison-Biggs noticed an increase in the number of visitors outside her beachfront home over the summer. She points the finger at a large tour company that drops off an estimated 300 people a day at the nearly half-mile Kokololio Beach.
Concerns about heavy foot traffic and environmental impacts at the Windward beach have prompted a bill before the Honolulu City Council calling for a ban on tour stops there. That would add it to a list of more than a dozen Oahu beaches where commercial activities are banned.
But critics say the piecemeal approach pushes the problem to other coastline communities and doesn’t solve the underlying issue of overuse and tensions with local residents. Owners of commercial tour companies, meanwhile, are worried they will be pushed out of business if the bans continue to spread across the island.
“We don’t want to have a heavy-handed approach,” Madison-Biggs said. “I don’t think we should stop all commercial activity. Is there a way we can manage our beaches and the wildlife where we as residents and locals feel like we want to give aloha instead of feeling like it’s demanded?”
Residents and tour companies say nixing commercial activities one beach at a time will not solve the problem, asking the City Council for a middle ground.
Council member Heidi Tsuneyoshi, who introduced the bill that would add Kokololio Beach in Hauula to the banned list, said the council has for a decade asked the Department of Parks and Recreation to create an islandwide policy but hasn’t yet seen evidence of a concrete plan.
“It’s just a feeling of frustration because we always get the same response,” Tsuneyoshi said. “The response is that this will push activity to other beaches, which we know is a possible consequence of taking action, but no action is not an option.”
Parks spokesman Nathan Serota said the department is working on an islandwide approach to better managing commercial activities, but the plan won’t be ready until the end of this year. He said it was delayed by a change in city leadership and the coronavirus pandemic.
“Mayor (Rick) Blangiardi and DPR Director (Laura) Thielen have been in office for under two years,” Serota said in an email. “Much of their efforts relating to parks have focused on restoring regular access, facility permitting during various Covid restrictions, deferred maintenance, and reviving park programs at 306 park sites islandwide. Basically, getting city parks back to regular order.”
Kokololio Beach, which lies at the foot of a valley and adjacent to a stream, is a popular local spot to camp, fish and explore aquatic life. But neighbors worry about the environmental impact of the increase in tourists, and some have had spats with tour bus drivers for overextending their stay.
According to Madison-Biggs, residents have seen an average of five buses a day stopping at the beach.
Commercial enterprises, such as tour buses and wedding photographers, require a permit from the city and are generally allowed to drop tourists off at beaches where allowed. Several beaches on the Windward side and North Shore area give drivers a 15-minute grace period to park for a restroom break, but residents have said that some abuse those privileges.
The new law to include Kokololio Beach would ban tour stops completely.
Hauula resident Sylvia Craig-Kapu has recorded multiple Nui Tours buses she said were parked at the beach for more than an hour. Nui Tours did not respond to requests for comment.
“I don’t want to group them together saying they’re all bad. There are no park attendants here to enforce the rules, so it’s difficult,” Craig-Kapu said.
Tour companies are worried the bans could be a fatal blow to their businesses and will prompt tourists to rent more cars as an alternative to get around the island.
Custom Island Tours owner Carey Johnson said there are hardly any beaches left to which tour companies can take visitors. He added that the point of the tours is to get people to explore the island outside of Waikiki.
He has four tour vans that carry an average of three to eight people each trip. His company recently received a two star review from a visitor because one of Johnson’s drivers wouldn’t stop at Kailua beach, which banned commercial activities.
“He left me a two star review saying ‘It’s not worth the money because they’re not allowed to take you anywhere anyway,’” Johnson said.
Custom Island Tours driver Leinani Lauaki said she loves her job because it allows her to connect with visitors and educate them about her home state. But she’s worried that visitors will miss those opportunities if the bans continue.
“It’s not just giving a history lesson but explaining why these things are important to people who live here,” she said. “We’re just trying to support local businesses as best as we can, but to be honest, I won’t be able to do that for them soon.”
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