U.S. Rep. Case pushes for decline in tourism

A U.S. Representative has encouraged Hawaii to take measures to discourage tourism to the state when the pandemic ends.

U.S. Rep. Ed Case, a member of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, said during a livestream Friday that the COVID-19 pandemic may allow the state to end a “three-generation march towards the highest volume of tourism possible.”

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“What happened during COVID-19 was that a terrible pandemic gave us a glimpse of a Hawaii without tourism and we all liked it,” Case said. “And we’re reluctant to go back to a world where we have 10 million plus tourists.”

Case suggested that counties take measures to limit or reduce travel to the state, such as cracking down on illegal vacation rentals, imposing non-residential user fees, or not permitting the zoning of new hotels.

“To go back to the status quo before COVID-19, I don’t think is going to result in a solid tourism industry for us going forward,” Case said. “We’re going to have the kind of open revolts against tourism that we’ve started seeing.”

Case said the state may receive additional federal defense funding this year to make up for the decline in tourism spending since the pandemic began.

Military presence in Hawaii is the state’s “second economic generator,” Case said, and has had to pick up the slack of sustaining the state’s economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To consider a Hawaii that had both tourism go down without the backstop of defense is to consider far more of a disaster than we saw,” Case said.

Because of this, Case said the Appropriations Committee has discussed this week a range of bills that would inject more funding toward military enterprises in the state, primarily at Pearl Harbor.

However, Case said other funding targets include Native Hawaiian education and healthcare, transportation infrastructure and local businesses.

Meanwhile, Case said he supports Gov. David Ige’s cautious approach toward reopening the state in light of a resurgence in COVID-19 cases on the mainland U.S.

“I think the governor has, from the beginning of COVID-19, placed public health mandates first and foremost, and that is unlike many parts of this country, in which some people started to feel they could beat COVID-19 without these kinds of protections,” Case said Friday. “And they were proved dead wrong.

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“You cannot relax your guard,” Case went on. “I don’t really care if the rest of the country feels we’re being too protective. I frankly think the rest of the country has let their guard down too soon.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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