A tourist tax is being considered in Hawaii, to offset the impact of millions of visitors a year.
According to Hawaii governor Josh Green, between nine and ten million tourists come to the islands every year, many times the meager 1.4 million population of the state.
“Those 10 million travelers should be helping us sustain our environment,” he says.
Hawaiian lawmakers are considering legislation to impose a yearlong license or tourist tax on those who want to do more than visit Hawaii’s few cities. Green actually ran on a platform that included a fee for all tourists entering the state, but it’s likely that such a fee would violate the U.S. constitution. Fees to cross state borders are prohibited.
Other vulnerable tourist hotspots have imposed similar fees, like the Galapagos Islands, Venice in Italy, and the Pacific nation of Palau. In the U.S., Alaska charges a small tax to every cruise ship passenger visiting the state.
According to state representatives in Hawaii, tourist focuses have changed in recent years. Visitors are playing less golf and hiking more. Social media is pushing people into seeking more obscure sites.
“It’s not like it was 20 years ago when you bring your family and you hit maybe one or two famous beaches and you go see Pearl Harbor. And that’s the extent of it,” State Rep. Sean Quinlan said. “These days it’s like, well, you know, ‘I saw this post on Instagram and there’s this beautiful rope swing, a coconut tree.’”
“All these places that didn’t have visitors now have visitors,” he said. Quinlan chairs the House Tourism Committee.
Most state parks and trails in Hawaii are currently free, which means they’re funded from the tax-base. Only a few charge, like Diamond Head State Monument, and they charge a token amount, only $5 per traveler. New charges would apply only to nonresidents over the age of 15, not to children or possessors of Hawaiian driver’s license.