Plan to halt vehicles used as visitor lodging, cap tourist units advances
April 26, 2022, 6:00 AM HST
A plan to put the brakes on camper vans and other recreational vehicles used for visitor lodging moved ahead Friday.
If approved, the proposed bill would also cap hotel and other transient accommodations as a way to stem the negative impacts of over-tourism.
Maui County Council voted 6-3 on the measure Friday, with Council Members Alice Lee, Yuki Lei Sugimura and Tasha Kama dissenting. Now, the plan will be sent to the county planning commissions and other advisory panels. After feedback, it will be returned to the council for consideration.
Driven by US Mainland pent-up demand and savings, the visitor industry, which was suppressed at the pandemic’s onset, has rebounded faster than experts had predicted. Visitor arrivals are expected to meet and surpass pre-pandemic highs in the next few years — if not sooner, state reports show.
Several state and county leaders have been looking at ways to mitigate the negative impacts of over-tourism, such as crowding infrastructure, draining natural resources and hurting resident quality of life.
The council’s proposed bill would change zoning rules to set transient accommodation caps. It would also ban temporary parking of camper vans and recreational vehicles if rented for short-term accommodations or commercial reasons, unless it’s allowed by zoning and the right permit is obtained.
Camper vans, along with Jeeps and other vehicles with camping accessories, have spilled into residential areas, coastlines and other roadways within recent years.
While some vehicles are advertised online as affordable ways to stay on Maui, residents and county leaders have said they are littering roadways and bypassing transient accommodation taxes.
On the heels of a two-year moratorium on new construction for hotel and other visitor units, the transient cap proposal was created by a council subcommittee that studied ways to manage tourism on Maui.
Several months of testimony on the hotel moratorium and visitor accommodation caps have drawn strong support from residents and steady pushback from industry leaders.
Upcountry resident Jordan Hocker during Friday’s council meeting said she won’t drive to South or West Maui unless she has to because of jam-packed infrastructure overrun by tourism.
Hocker, who has testified several times over months of council hearings, encouraged Maui leaders to follow through with what’s being asked of them: Manage the visitor industry by putting a limit on hotel and other transient accommodations.
“The resolution is a forward step in doing what’s being asked by members of the public, which is management of tourism,” she testified Friday. “As we heard from lobbyists in the past, the industry does not have intentions of curbing their growth or stopping.”
Other residents echoed similar support for the measure.
“We need more homes, not hotels,” South Maui resident David Dorn said.
Maui shoreline activist Kai Nishiki backed the plan and highlighted the negative impacts of a “relentless onslaught of tourism gone wild.”
“Voters are paying attention; it’s election season,” she said during testimony.
However, industry leaders and the three dissenting council members have said capping rooms won’t stop visitors from coming. Some have said it could have negative consequences, such as causing illegal short-term rentals to flourish or hurting local construction and hotel jobs.
Sugimura on Friday said she is voting against the plan, just as she did in committee.
“I believe we need to understand the balance there is in the visitor industry as well as develop other industries,” she said. “I don’t think this is the solution.”