With a growing economy, something else has been booming on Maui. Over-tourism is the new buzzword, and a sore spot for many long-time residents as they see their island grow and change, and not always in a good way. In addition to overcrowding, promises of high returns lures some property owners to offer unpermitted vacation rentals, one cause of housing shortages for residents.


Maui overcrowdingOver-tourism issues include clogged highways, trails and beaches, causing increased irritation when visitors do not show as much respect for the ‘aina as necessary. But on the other hand, the majority that live here are either employed in tourism or are connected to a business that benefits from the visitor industry. Tourism is Maui’s leading economic sector.


This codependent relationship is was the subject of a contentious June meeting of the Maui County Council’s Environmental, Agricultural, and Cultural Preservation Committee.


Complaint testimony ranged from congested traffic on the road to Hana and to Lahaina, visitors trespassing into areas they don’t belong; illegal parking, unsafe traffic maneuvers and road rage to overstressed infrastructure. Parking areas and bathrooms are overtaxed as are natural resources like trails and beaches. Increased activity also places a strain on public safety officers.


Dick Mayer, former vice-chair of the Maui Island General Plan Advisory Committee testified that Maui has exceeded the Maui Island Plan’s guidance for tourism limits. The plan states that there should be no more than one tourist for every three residents at any given time on the island, in order to “maximize residents’ benefits from the visitor industry.


Given an island population of about 158,000, that means no more than 52,700 visitors should be on island at any given time. But according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, Maui averaged 75,000 tourists a day in July, 2018 – almost half of the island’s resident population.


Investor property owners can be part of the solution.


While cracking down on illegal vacation rentals by imposing stiff penalties, the County of Maui also eased up rules allowing multiple dwellings on residential properties. This creates opportunities for homeowners or those looking to buy or expand investment properties, while also helping to solve the housing crunch.


Under the new law, lots under 7,500 square feet can now have a unit up to 500 square feet, while lots above 7,500 square feet can have two ohanas. The policy also expands the maximum size of the units, in addition for allowing more off-street parking. An accessory dwelling has its own kitchen, bathroom and sleeping area. It can be attached to a home or be a detached, stand-alone structure.


Many solutions where proposed regarding Maui’s “growing” problem, and conversations will be ongoing with fresh voices on the County Council. Tourism provides good jobs and an interesting lifestyle, if a balance can be struck.