Vacation rental cap, other tourism reforms on the table | News, Sports, Jobs

Lines of people wait to board whale-watching boats earlier this month in Lahaina Harbor. In the wake of growing complaints of overtourism, a Maui County Council committee is considering a number of tourism reforms, including putting a cap on transient lodging, creating a chief operating officer tourism and the regulation of the ride-sharing industry. The Maui News/MATTHEW THAYER photo

Most witnesses said Wednesday they support a proposal to put a cap on transitional housing and urged a Maui County Council committee to act quickly on the measure.

The comments came as the Maui County Council’s Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee discussed a report from its temporary Tourism Management and Economic Development Investigative Panel, which was formed amid growing complaints of overtourism on Maui.

The group is led by Budget Committee Chair Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, along with Vice Chair Alice Lee, who also serves as Board Chair, and Board Members Tamara Paltin and Shane Sinenci.

They made eight proposals ranging from capping the number of transient accommodations to creating a head of tourism management and regulating the peer-to-peer car-sharing industry.

The Inquiry Group is working to develop legislation that establishes a transitional accommodation limit by type and by community plan area. There is currently a temporary moratorium on new transitional accommodations on Maui after the council passed a bill in December and overturned a veto by Mayor Michael Victorino in January.

Under the bill, the temporary moratorium will remain in place for two years or – whichever comes first – until legislation is passed by the council to establish the caps.

No legislative action was scheduled for Wednesday and the committee postponed the item. Rawlins-Fernandez said the proposals would be sent to the appropriate board committees for consideration.

Overtourism has been a concern for years, but during the pandemic locals got to see what the island was like without tourists, as the beaches and roads were less crowded, but many tourism industry workers found themselves unemployed.

When restrictions eased and visitors eagerly returned to Maui, overwhelmed residents voiced complaints and called on elected officials to rethink tourism.

Maui had already set records before the pandemic, welcoming more than 3 million visitors in 2019, the first time it had reached that level since record-keeping began 30 years ago.

The council proposed a number of tourism management measures, including the moratorium on new transitional accommodation which also stimulated the fact-finding group to make conclusions and proposals relating to tourism management and economic development. . The group presented eight legislative proposals in early February, including:

• Establish a cap on transitional lodging to the number currently operating or legally permitted by the current Maui County Code.

• Create a tourism management commission that would appoint the position of head of tourism management.

• Establish green energy requirements for transient accommodations.

• Reword the Maui Island Plan to say that permit application or permits for transient vacation accommodations would be discontinued if the island-wide visitor population exceeds 33% of the resident population.

• Regulate the peer-to-peer car-sharing industry.

• Modify the Maui Island Plan to include measurable quality of life indicators.

• Amend county code to allow exceptions to transient accommodation caps for structures along the shoreline that need to be moved and rebuilt.

• Eliminate transient vacation rentals in various neighborhoods.

On Wednesday, 20 people testified about the inquiry panel’s recommendations, with the majority in favor of the proposals, in particular a transitional accommodation cap.

Albert Perez, executive director of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation, said the organization disagreed. “with every aspect of every recommendation.” However, he approves of capping tourist accommodations, as was in the plan for the island of Maui 10 years ago and “it is already time, it is time.”

But Perez said the caps should be even lower than the proposal and the numbers could be hit through attrition. With fewer accommodation units, housing quality could increase and potentially require more workers to be hired, Perez said.

Regarding concerns about the lack of construction work without the construction of new tourist accommodation, Perez said attention may instead turn to construction projects for residents.

“We need our construction workers to help our local residents,” including building infrastructure and affordable housing, Perez said.

Toral Patel of Airbnb Public Policy, Hawaii, however, said the company is “deeply concerned about proposals that would restrict and/or eliminate transient accommodations on Maui, which could have many unintended consequences for the local economy.”

When asked by the committee what those unintended consequences might be, Patel said there might be “ripple effects” such as impacts on jobs related to temporary accommodation.

She also pointed to Airbnb’s agreement with Maui County, in which Airbnb removed more than 1,300 listings without tax card key numbers in late January to help the county enforce its short-term rental policies.

She asked that the council give the agreements a chance to be effective before considering additional restrictions on transitional accommodation.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at [email protected]

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