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The rise of social media, travel apps and vacation rental hosting sites has made it more difficult for tourists and residents to find secluded experiences on any island, especially Maui, where tourism arrivals rose from 1.8 million in 2009 to 2.9 million in 2018, a 54% gain that was the largest increase on any island.
Maui, with a population of roughly 152,000, also boasts the state’s highest ratio of visitors to residents. On any given day some 30% of the people on the island are visitors, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority estimates from 2018. Testifiers at a Maui County Council committee meeting Tuesday said the island’s population was now, on average, one tourist for every 2.4 residents — a measure that’s nearly 10 percent over the suggesed limits set by the Maui Island Plan, the adopted guide for Maui County growth.
Maui also has the best rental car facility in the state, a $340 million, multilevel wonder with an electric tram which opened in May. The investment harks back to HTA’s plan of a few years ago to grow Hawaii tourism by boosting visits to the neighbor islands, which were perceived as offering more opportunity for growth in visitor arrivals.
HTA’s goal for neighbor island tourism now favors visitor experience, resident sentiment and spending over tourism arrivals.
But changing course is difficult. Through the first six months of the year, HTA reported that Maui visitor spending decreased nearly 2% to $2.6 billion, while visitor arrivals grew 4% to more than 1.5 million. That’s the opposite of HTA’s goal.