HTA president warns of extra fees for tourists

Lawmakers should be cautious about imposing additional fees on tourists visiting Hawaii, a state tourism official said Friday.

John De Fries, president of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, during a livestreamed interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser discussed the possibility of imposing usage fees upon visitors to offset their environmental impact, a policy proposed by gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who has suggested a $50 fee per person.


But De Fries said such fees, while well-intentioned, could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

“I want everyone to be sensitive to the fact that right now the visitor has a 10.25% state transient accommodations tax, a 3% county TAT, a 4-plus percent general excise tax,” De Fries said. “So, just under 18% before we go anywhere. And then you’ve got fuel surcharges and so on.”

De Fries added that it might not be fair to impose such fees on people visiting the state for business, for example, who never visit any of the sensitive locations throughout the state.

Even though visitor numbers are still lagging behind prepandemic numbers by a few percentage points — statewide visitors in September were about 4.5% lower than September 2019, although visitation rates improved by 5.3% on the Big Island — De Fries said that visitor expenditures have risen by 18%, even without a fully recovered Asian tourism market.

While De Fries credited the higher spending to pent-up demand, the general cost of goods and services also has increased significantly since the pandemic. Food prices in Hawaii increased by 7.4% this year alone, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

By the time a widely predicted economic recession hits Hawaii, De Fries said he hopes the Japanese tourism market will be recovered enough to mitigate the impacts, although he also noted that the value of the Japanese yen against the U.S. dollar is not in Japan’s favor.

Email Michael Brestovansky at

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