Tourism strategic plan is launched

Illegal vacation rentals to be discouraged; visitor safety, Hawaiian culture promoted

A wave washes over a Hookipa Beach Park tide pool as Connor Eisele, 13, Mark Bridgeford and Joanna Eisele hold on Wednesday afternoon. The Eiseles are visiting from Orlando, Fla., while Bridgeford lives in Paia. Maui County and the Maui Visitors Bureau have started a 10-year tourism plan that addresses issues such as visitor safety, illegal vacation rentals, the community, environment and Native Hawaiian culture. • The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The Maui News – Maui County and the Maui Visitors Bureau have begun implementing a 10-year tourism strategic plan that, among other goals, aims to discourage visitors from staying in illegal vacation rentals.

“Airbnb and VRBO have been game changers in visitor accommodations booking,” said county Office of Economic Development Director Teena Rasmussen. “Visitors are finding their way into every neighborhood within the county. . . . Residents have expressed frustration over additional noise from partying, congestion and the takeover of workforce housing.”

There was no immediate estimate on the number of legal and illegal vacation rentals in Maui County.

The county has hired LODGINGRevs, a Colorado-based company that specializes in rooting out illegal short-term rentals. The company extracts data from photographs to locate properties and can overcome vacation rental operators’ online efforts to remain undetected.

According to an announcement of the strategic plan’s implementation, the Office of Economic Development and Maui Visitors Bureau have consulted with the county Department of Planning to develop visitor messaging to discourage booking illegal vacation rentals.

Visitors will be encouraged to ask if transient vacation rentals are legal, and visitors will be referred to the county website, which will help them find listings for legal accommodations. Eventually, MVB will purchase advertising on popular visitor sites to spread the message.

“Illegal TVRs were discussed multiple times during the (County) Council budget process this year,” said MVB Executive Director Sherry Duong. “The council earmarked funding to help create this messaging.”

The tourism strategic plan has four major pillars: community, culture, environment and visitors.

To promote environmental awareness, the county will work with the Maui Nui Marine Resources Council to draft environmental messages for visitors, the announcement says.

Through an Office of Economic Development grant, the marine resources council will design four kiosks at Kahului Airport that will educate visitors about the marine environment. The council will create a year-round speaker’s series for residents and visitors that focuses on oceans, water quality, marine life and other topics. The council also will spearhead a program to promote reef-safe sunscreen for visitors and educate the community about reef health.

A $40,000 county grant will fund the resource council’s airport kiosk, sunscreen awareness and speaker series programs, Rasmussen said.

To support exposure to authentic Hawaiian culture, the visitors bureau will work with organizers of small-town Friday parties, hiring island entertainers, musicians and artists to perform Hawaiian music, dance, storytelling and provide other cultural activities, the announcement says.

The visitors bureau will employ Maui County halau and musicians to accompany its officials to several travel trade shows, and the bureau will help the locally produced movie “Kuleana” with its rebranding and marketing for Mainland theaters.

The visitors bureau will help promote visitor safety by producing two safety seminars over the next year, spreading the word on social media and at airports, beach parks and hiking trails.

Signs with safety information will be upgraded or installed as needed. The visitors bureau already has an ocean safety message displayed in the baggage claim area of Kahului Airport.

The tourism strategic plan was unveiled in November and will continue through 2026.

The plan aims for the development of a “healthy tourism economy that must be beneficial to local residents; offer authentic cultural experiences and honor our indigenous Hawaii culture; protect and maintain a pristine environment both on the land and in the sea; requires our infrastructure to be adequate and in good condition; and assures that our visitors receive excellent service and be immersed in the aloha spirit.”

This year, visitor arrivals in Maui County are projected to reach 2.9 million, which would break last year’s record of 2.74 million.