The Hawaii State Legislature has approved a $13 million budget, including funding for much-needed repairs at Waikiki Beach, a shore known as the epicenter of tourism in Oahu.
On Sunday, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that state officials have given the green light for projects including restoration of the crumbling Royal Hawaiian seawall at Waikiki Beach and reconstruction of a Kuhio Beach seawall. The grant will also fund about four other projects highlighted in the $10 million Waikiki Beach Master Plan.
The renovations are slated to begin later this summer or in the early fall.
"This is the largest appropriation for beach improvements on Oahu in recent memory. It allows us to move forward on several projects that have been discussed on and off for decades," Dolan Eversole of the University of Hawaii said of the news.
"There used to be a wait-and-see sentiment among some, but there has been a shift in overall perception, and people seem to feel that we can't wait any longer to address these challenges,” he continued.
Waikiki Beach is colloquially known to be the epicenter of tourism on Oahu, which last year welcomed over 5.9 million visitors, or about 60% of the Aloha State’s 10 million total visitors. That tourism generated more than $8 billion in spending, or about 46% of $17.8 billion in statewide spending, according to officials.
Much is at stake with the project, according to one frequent visitor, who describes Waikiki as the “main attraction” of Hawaii’s allure.
“Waikiki Beach is the main attraction. It’s the reason everyone wants to come to Hawaii,” Nerida Abbott of Australia told the Star-Advertiser. Abbott, who recently traveled to the Aloha State with a party of ten, went so far as to say that if “Waikiki Beach wasn’t here, we probably wouldn’t have come back.”
Likewise, Sam Lemmo of the Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources agreed that it’s high time to address the issues of erosion and beach width at the vacation hotspot.
“Waikiki Beach is a manufactured beach that came out of a major sand renourishment in the 1930s. The infrastructure is aging,” Lemmo told the outlet. “Chronic erosion is accelerating and will continue to do so with sea level rise. We have to manage it and we need projects in the pipeline so we can get ahead of the climate change and sea-level-rise curve.”
“You cannot just not do anything and let it deteriorate,” he elaborated. “If your objective is to maintain Waikiki as a visitor destination, the beach is a vital part of that infrastructure.”
In similar headlines, a March paper published by researchers from the University of Hawaii made waves in its claims that the island paradise has hit a so-called “tipping point” of overtourism. According to the findings, increasing numbers of annual visitors are reportedly on the brink of overwhelming the state’s resources, damaging the quality of life for residents and negatively impacting general economic vitality.
As noted by the Star-Advertiser, Hawaii welcomed a record-breaking 9.9 million tourists in 2018.
Visitor spending rose to a whopping $17.8 billion last year, creating over $2 billion in tax revenue.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.