Last year alone, the island state home to just over 1.4 million full-time residents saw 8.9 million visitors — an increase of 3 percent from 2015, and good for a record $15.6 billion in tourism spending. But is it sustainable? In a state with an image built on the notion of a remote and pristine natural environment, foot traffic from 220,000 outsiders a day can pose quite a dilemma.
“There’s no doubt that there’s growing concern about how we balance these drivers of the economy and the things that make Hawaii a desirable place to visit,” said Celeste Connors, executive director of public-private sustainability advocacy group Hawaii Green Growth, during a discussion Tuesday at the VERGE Hawaii clean energy conference in Honolulu. “We’re really looking at achieving those triple-bottom-line objectives.”
Although the ecotourism conundrum is by no means unique to Hawaii, there is added pressure on the state to confront the disconnect. State legislators have signed onto a goal to transition the state to 100 percent renewable power by 2045, which raises big questions about how major players in the dominant tourism industry — airlines, hotels, rental car companies, ocean activity companies — plan to do their share.