Tourism, Film Industry & Real Estate

When you think of real estate, you may not think of tourism or the film industry as related, but they definitely are tied to each other.  The film industry discovered the beauty of Kauai in 1933 when the film White Heat was shot.  Since then, filmmakers have returned to Kauai to shoot other favorites as South Pacific, Blue Hawaii, Raiders of the Lost Ark, King Kong, Outbreak, Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park III, Jurassic World, Lilo & Stitch, Dragonfly, Avatar, Soul Surfer and The Descendents. 

The personality and tropical beauty of Kauai has been marketed to the global marketplace with these blockbuster films. That exposure of the Garden Island’s special charm special draws visitors in droves to the island, and those visitors flock to visit the sites seen in the movies.

Advertised in Travel and Leisure magazine as the “most romantic island in the U.S.” Kauai has the highest level of tourism dependency compared to other islands in the state.  While Maui and Honolulu draw mainland and Asian travelers to the island, Kauai primarily relies on the mainland market.

In 2014 Kauai’s visitor plant inventory was 8,492 representing a 2.1% decrease from 2013.  The decline was largely due to decreases in condominium/hotel units, B & B units (also known as Homestays) and Vacation Rentals.  The number of properties indicated a drop by 19.2 % from 2013 led by a decrease of 21.1% in Vacation Rental properties.  Forty five percent of Kauai’s units remain in the deluxe price class followed by the luxury class units 28.8%.  Overall prices for the vacation rental units were higher in 2014 than in 2013.

The dilemma is this. Tourism, the Film Industry, and our visitor accommodations all bring vital income to our island. It’s the monies spent from these tourists that shop at our stores and provide income to so many island residents working in hotels, and yes, managing TVRs and B&Bs. The Kauai Board of Realtors supports homeowners adhering to county rules and ordinances so that each vacation unit, regardless of type, is abiding by the standards established, and paying the transient accommodations tax, on  which the county depends.

That being said, the scrutiny and restrictions to TVR operators and the recent decision on limiting B&Bs seems in contradiction with the islands real economic and tourism needs. KBR supports the property rights of those many individuals who depend on their B&Bs and TVRs to make a living on Kauai. After a recent ruling where the county will only review 10 applications for B&Bs a year, one of our council persons wrote in the paper that he hoped that some of these B&Bs would make it back into the hands of local families.  Not sure this council person was  aware that the median price of a home is $615,000 on Kauai. Meanwhile, the median income of a Kauai family is $72,400.  A local family with a median level  of income, assuming good credit and no excessive debt, can qualify for a $300,000 loan and that will not buy a $615,000 home! Most everyone can agree that we have a housing crisis. However the strategies and restrictions currently at play are not congruent with the islands economic and housing needs.

Take a look at Trip Advisor and Yelp and you will soon become aware that the global trend is for travelers to stay in a vacation rental or B&B type of accommodation. AirB&B is a good example of a growing industry for alternative types of vacation experiences. Those types of experiences are what many tourists seek. KBR wants to be a voice for solving the real housing issues; affordable housing, transitional housing for the homeless, and workforce housing and supporting the property rights of everyone as defined by the 4th amendment of the constitution. If our tourism leaders want the exposure and attraction of those big Hollywood films spreading the word about “Beautiful Kauai”, then we need to be prepared to offer those tourism customers what they want. That will grow our economy, provide more opportunities, and perhaps the County Council, Housing Departments and all those committed to improving our housing situation can place their focus on a win-win strategy to make some genuine inroads into our real housing crisis, the crisis for those who live here.


Ron Margolis, Government Affairs Committee and Director Kauai Board of Realtors, Realtor Broker with Keller Williams Honolulu serving Kauai. Reach Ron at