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Building moratorium wrong solution at wrong time

Viewpoint

The Maui Planning Commission will be hearing a measure Tuesday that would establish Chapters 19.98 and 20.41, Maui County Code, declaring a moratorium on new transient accommodations on Maui. The proposed measure creates multiple concerns that could have broad impacts on Maui’s economy.

While the purpose of the ordinance is to decrease the number of visitors to Maui by stopping the development of transient accommodations, there is no data to suggest this would be an effective strategy. Visitors will still come to Maui and seek other accommodations, even if the supply of lodging units is limited.

As we have seen, the volume of visitors will likely permeate into Maui’s residential neighborhoods and apartment unit inventory through an increase in short-term vacation rentals, which are the fastest-growing segment within Maui’s visitor accommodations industry. If the purpose of the bill is to decrease the visitor count, perhaps (1) further regulation is needed to limit the number of legal short-term vacation rental units in Maui County, and (2) enforcement to stop illegal short-term vacation rental units in residential neighborhoods is required.

The moratorium will also have significant negative economic impacts on Maui’s economy during a time when economic recovery should be pursued. Why risk forgoing substantial investments from being injected into the economy, creating jobs and vital tax revenue, especially given the recent surge in COVID cases that may continue to impact the visitor industry?

Resolution 21-98 targets the wrong visitor accommodations at the worst possible time. The American Resort Development Association of Hawaii, which represents the vacation ownership and resort development industries in Hawaii, is surprised that the county would want to stop timeshare visitors from coming to Maui. The timeshare visitor has the exact profile of the type of visitor that we should welcome, with higher income levels and more spending off-property in restaurants and local stores.

Timeshare visitors are typically owners of real estate who have invested in the island and plan to return regularly. They are more likely to take care of their property, which for most is a home away from home, as they are owners, not transients. In addition, people may be surprised to learn that of the 26,034 Hawaii resident households who own timeshares, nearly 17,000 of them own on one of the Hawaiian Islands.

Additionally, the timeshare industry is currently a strong contributor to Maui’s economy, providing more than $73 million per year in state and local taxes in addition to the employment of and income to Maui residents.

We strongly agree that some sort of resolution is needed to provide residents with the ability to continue to work while at the same time addressing the significant impacts of the influx of visitors until Maui can transition to a more diversified economic base. But Resolution 21-98 is not the right answer. We urge the county’s Tourism Management Temporary Investigative Group, in collaboration with the tourism industry, to carefully study these concerns prior to invoking any moratorium to prevent causing unnecessary harm to Maui’s fragile economy, which is struggling to recover from the pandemic.

* Mitchell Imanaka is the chairperson of the American Resort Development Association of Hawaii.

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