Steps to Tackle Hawaii ‘Overtourism’ Gather Pace

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People gather on a platform of the partially reopened “Skyline” railway system on the island of Oahu in Hawaii on June 30.

HONOLULU — As the tourism industry continues to recover following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, communities in Hawaii are weighing measures aimed at curbing so-called overtourism.

Currently, the U.S. state’s tourist numbers for 2023 are on pace to match its all-time high. In contrast to its population of about 1.4 million, Hawaii normally attracted about 10 million visitors each year, prior to the pandemic.

But visitor numbers plummeted to about 2.7 million in 2020 during the pandemic, representing a more than 70% fall from the record-high 10.4 million people who visited the archipelago in 2019. By 2022, however, the figure had recovered to about 9.2 million, and from January to May this year, was close to the level registered for the same period in 2019.

According to a University of Hawaii survey, seawater clarity for March-December 2018 at Hanauma Bay — a popular tourist destination that was closed during the pandemic — improved by about 60% from the pre-COVID era.

Improvements were also seen in coral reef ecosystems. But concerns are growing among local residents that the environment will once again deteriorate with the increase in tourists.

In hopes of limiting visitor numbers and easing the burden on the environment, authorities introduced reservation systems at Hanauma Bay in April 2021 and Diamond Head State Monument in May 2022.

Furthermore, swimming within 45 meters of spinner dolphins in the waters surrounding Hawaii has been prohibited since 2021 as part of efforts to protect the aquatic mammal.

Moves to relieve traffic congestion also are underway. On June 30, part of the Skyline railway system began operating on the island of Oahu for the first time in about 75 years. Although some problems have been noted, such as high construction costs, there are hopes that the railway will help contribute toward decarbonization.

Earlier this year, a bill was submitted to the Hawaii state legislature aimed at dismantling and reorganizing the state tourism bureau. The bill focuses on measures to promote environmental conservation, rather than tourism. However, the state’s legislature did not pass the bill in June, but nor did they repeal it.


Hawaii “heads the world in terms of environmental conservationism,” said Tokyo Women’s Christian University Prof. Noriko Yagasaki, an expert in tourist-related economics.

Looking ahead, the development of further regulations, including stricter taxation, is likely to become a focus of attention.