The Hawaii State Legislature believes that establishing a visitor impact fee of $50 in Hawaii would be a significant and effective way to raise additional revenue to offset visitor impacts and ensure a healthy environment for future generations. This is according to Senate Bill SB304, which returns to the 2024 regular legislative session that begins today and runs until May.
In summary, the bill seeks to establish the visitor impact fee program within the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) effective July 1, 2025. It provides for DLNR to collect “a fee from visitors for a license to visit a state park, forest, hiking trail, or other state natural area. Once paid, access is granted for one year.
From Visitor Impact to Climate Impact: Hawaii’s Fee Rebranded.
In the aftermath of the devastating Lahaina fire in Maui, Hawaii Governor Josh Green revised the concept around the $50 Green Fee, which until then was known as the Visitor Impact Fee. This fee, initially proposed to generate hundreds of millions annually, aims to address the challenges posed by the state’s tourism-related infrastructure and also to boost firefighting efforts. However, previous attempts to implement such a fee have faced constitutional and logistical hurdles and have required reworking.
The evolution of the $50 Hawaii visitor fee proposed.
Initially, Governor Green proposal a broad visitor tax. That dates to his run for Hawaii governor. But that faced legislative and other obstacles, prompting a transformation into a tax solely on the use of Hawaii state beaches, parks, and facilities. The idea once conceived of assessing the fee through airlines or accommodations was abandoned, largely due to constitutional concerns. The restructured fee on state parks, beaches, or other facilities was met with uncertainty about its effectiveness and enforceability.
Plans have been to issue permits or licenses to visitors either online through a web site or app or through stores. That remains to be worked out.
Hawaii challenged in appropriate use of visitor funds.
Hawaii has a history of struggling with the effective use of visitor (and resident) taxes and fees, with results often falling short of intended goals. The USA’s highest accommodation taxes, paid by visitors (and traveling residents as well), raises questions about its utilization. The visible lack of reinvestment in critical tourism infrastructure, from parks to airports, remains a concern, especially when compared to other renowned vacation destinations worldwide.
Impact on visitor perception.
As Hawaii contemplates reintroducing the Green Fee by any name, concerns arise about the potential negative impact on visitors. Many have voiced dissatisfaction with previous fee proposals, viewing them as an additional financial burden. As Maui strives to achieve a visitor resurgence after the Lahaina fire, the imposition of such a fee could be met with resistance.
Funding Hawaii firefighting efforts.
No one questions the need for better firefighting in light of both the Maui fires and the awareness that similar fires could present themselves with frequent droughts that Hawaii suffers. Governor Green justifies the new Green Fee by emphasizing the need for additional funding for such firefighting efforts. The funds are intended to support the hiring of more firefighters, acquiring equipment, and financing investigations related to incidents like the Lahaina fire. However, skepticism prevails regarding the allocation of funds to a “special fund” and the state’s ability to responsibly manage these financial resources.
Critical need for firefighting and for a state fire marshal.
Hawaii’s firefighting efforts face challenges, most notably the continued absence of a state fire marshal. That position was eliminated decades ago. This year, however, the legislature will address a number of bills aimed at restoring a state fire marshal position.
As Hawaii considers the revival of the $50 Green Fee.
The state grapples with finding effective ways to fund both critical infrastructure improvements and firefighting efforts. The environmental impact fee proposal, while well-intentioned, faces skepticism based on Hawaii’s poor track record in managing visitor-related funds and addressing pressing issues.