Rebalancing Kauai

  • Jessica Else / The Garden Island

    Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., Kauai Visitors Bureau Executive Director Sue Kanoho, and State Parks Assistant Administrator Alan Carpenter discuss ways to find balance between visitors, residents and the environment on Kauai, at the Lihue Business Association annual meeting Thursday at Duke’s Canoe Club on Kalapaki Beach.

LIHUE — With nature and infrastructure overwhelmed and record-breaking visitor numbers, state and county officials are looking for balance on Kauai.

It’s a topic with many threads — infrastructure and transportation, housing and the state budget, social media and access to shorelines and fishing grounds — and it’s in the shadow of 2017’s record arrivals, a total of almost 1.3 million people. This year’s numbers through August total 951,257 arrivals.

“We have the plans, let’s dive into it,” said Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. Thursday morning at Lihue Business Association’s annual meeting. “There is transitioning happening as we speak.”

Plans have been rolled out that officials say could help — plans like the Kauai General Plan and the recently released 2019-2021 Kauai Tourism Strategic Plan.

The LBA meeting’s focus was “visitor impact on Kauai.” Carvalho was joined by Kauai Visitors Bureau Executive Director Sue Kanoho and State Parks assistant administrator Alan Carpenter to talk about finding a win-win for residents, visitors and the environment throughout the island and specifically at Haena State Park.

A plan to revamp the management of the so-called “end of the road” on the North Shore has been in the works for decades, with the goal to reduce Haena State Park’s visitors from a daily 2,000 to 900.

Damage from April flooding made that plan a priority for State Parks and workers are already starting repairs and construction on a replacement parking lot with an entry that will accommodate a shuttle stop.

“We’re in a unique situation,” Carpenter said. “We are the verge of finalizing a plan and then April came and all of the sudden we were faced with a crisis. Through scrambling we’ve been able to turn that into an opportunity.”

To make it happen, State Parks took money from some of their other projects throughout the state and funneled it to the Haena project, with the hopes of being reimbursed with federal funds.

“Once a park is essentially broken, it’s pushed to the top of the list,” Carpenter said.

Those same April rains forced the closure of Kuhio Highway west of Waipa and closure of Napali Coast State Wilderness Park and Haena, and a checkpoint was set up that restricts the area to residents and others with an official reason to be there.

Original state predictions were that the road would be potentially open by the end of October, but a recent release pushed the finish date to late January, and maybe even later into 2019.

“The goal is to have a park that will be ready to welcome visitors back when the road opens,” Carpenter said.

State parks are the backdrop for Hawaii Tourism Authority’s marketing and a major draw for visitors, officials say, and keeping the number of people in balance with the need to preserve nature is paramount to a thriving visitor industry.

“More (visitors) isn’t better for our parks,” Carpenter said. “Better quality is important.”

That motto of quality versus quantity is also woven into the Kauai Tourism Strategic Plan, entitled “Refocusing Tourism To Find Balance.”

That document uses the term “quality of life” metrics to describe things like the quality of the visitor experience, the impact of the visitor industry on local residents and the environment, and the quality of life for visitor industry employees.

Kanoho said the strategy outlined in the 2019-2021 plan for Kauai comes from a different angle than in the past.

“I don’t think it’ll be the status quo of more and more (increasing visitor numbers), it’ll be finding the right visitors to match the island,” Kanoho said.

That means a focus on connecting with visitors who are looking for what Kauai has to offer — for instance, targeting hikers and outdoors enthusiasts, and suggesting Oahu or Maui for those who want lively nightlife and an Ala Moana-type experience.

Some ideas being explored to help find balance are using shuttles and multi-modal transportation to move people from community to community, putting limits on visitor numbers in parks and charging entry and parking fees in Koke’e, and getting a handle on illegal vacation rentals.

“We’re not going to do this alone, it’s going to take us working together,” Kanoho said. “It’s a matter of managing what we have and helping people understand how to visit responsibly.”


Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or

  1. Mynah October 26, 2018 4:18 am Reply

    Hi, would you please link to the plans you mention in the article?

  2. tunataxi October 26, 2018 7:41 am Reply

    Kauai and the entire state of Hawaii need to stop spending money to promote the islands. It’s the 21st Century and the age of the Internet. There’s no need to spend taxpayer dollar to let the world know we are here. Everyone knows already and if they don’t they likely don’t have the money to come here. Put the money towards cleaning our parks instead

  3. Makaala Kaaumoana October 26, 2018 7:48 am Reply

    It would have been very helpful to include a link to the plan. Where is it?

  4. Lee October 26, 2018 12:32 pm Reply

    The article doesn’t give many details, unfortunately. With the closure of the road up north, you’d think some resources would be targeted to making other outdoor locations healthier for the thousands of visitors who are diverted to other parts of Kauai. Instead, our trails are worse than I’ve seen in years.

  5. Sue Kanoho October 26, 2018 5:09 pm Reply

    Kauai Tourism Strategic Plan 2019-2021

    1. Lee October 27, 2018 9:03 am Reply

      Thank you! This is a wonderful report. Many good ideas to consider.

  6. AVCWBCOACH October 26, 2018 6:26 pm Reply


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