WAILUA — Starting this month, kayak-tour operators and rental companies are no longer allowed to operate tours on the Wailua River on Saturdays.
With Sundays already restricted, this limits guided tours to weekdays moving forward.
The change came as a shock to companies which were notified of the restriction at a meeting on Nov. 22, less than two weeks before the permitting change would go effect on Dec. 4. Immediately, companies with advanced holiday bookings began contacting clients with Saturday reservations to reschedule or cancel tours.
Losing Saturday bookings will come as a financial hit.
Will Leonard of Rainbow Kayaks and Ancient River Kayaks estimates the reduction of an operating day will cost his companies between 17% and 20% of revenue.
While it is too soon to tell, between the fluctuations in tourism due to the ongoing pandemic and uncertainty of the weather, predicting the full effect of the change is difficult to calculate.
“I don’t even know, honestly, if the business will be viable,” Leonard said. “We’re going to have to get through winter, hope there’s not too much rain and see where we’re at.”
Some companies expect to be less-hard-hit than others by the change, but part of that comes down to permitting. More permits provide flexibility to companies trying to fit their booking into a Monday-through-Friday schedule, but permits are limited.
“A single company can only have two permits, but a single person can have two companies and each company could have two permits,” Pete Fisher, owner of Kayak Wailua and Polynesian Kayak Adventures, said.
Between the two companies Fisher owns, he has three permits allowing his guides to take up to six tours a day.
Fisher believes that he will still be able to accommodate most of his guests between existing permits, with one exception.
“It seems like most of our business on Saturdays are those folks that come from the neighbor islands,” said Fisher. “They come over Friday night, maybe early Saturday morning, and then they leave Sunday night.”
Kayak companies are on edge with the permitting situation.
Several tour-company owners requested to speak anonymously, not wanting to escalate tensions with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of State Parks or face retaliation from the sole permitting agency.
“They have the power to pull our permits at any time,” said one operator. “(If) we get together and start complaining, then they can say ‘OK, fine. We’ll just we’ll pull everybody’s permits.’”
The Garden Island has reached out to DLNR several times since Nov. 30 via email and phone but did not receive comment.
While there was a lot of confusion among kayak-company owners as to why there was an such abrupt permitting change, several companies said that the DLNR’s reason for discontinuing Saturday kayak permits was to give the Wailua River a day to rest.
Companies agree with the DLNR that the Wailua River and trail to Uluwehi Falls should be better managed.
“(Over summer) there were over 100 people up at the falls in the mid-day. And a lot of them were from the guided tours. I don’t know why there’s so many guided permits out there,” said one tour operator.
According to Fisher, the boat ramp can also be a place of congestion with tour companies, outriggers and fishermen all launching from the same location.
Tour companies do work collaboratively with DLNR on some of these issues, and regularly volunteer time and resources to trail maintenance, Leonard said.
However, dialogue between DLNR and companies about Saturday concerns just did not happen before the permitting decision was made.
“There was no discussion,” said Fisher. “They even kind of implied that they could cut out all the days.”
Laurel Smith, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.