Tourism Water Use During the COVID-19 Shutdown A natural experiment in Hawai‘i

RESEARCH PAPERS ARE PRELIMINARY MATERIALS CIRCULATED TO STIMULATE DISCUSSION AND CRITICAL COMMENT. THE VIEWS EXPRESSED ARE THOSE OF THE INDIVIDUAL AUTHORS. WHILE RESEARCH PAPERS BENEFIT FROM ACTIVE UHERO DISCUSSION, THEY HAVE NOT UNDERGONE FORMAL ACADEMIC PEER REVIEW.

Many of the most popular tourist destinations are on small islands whose resources are in limited supply, and the effects of climate change and increasing tourism tend to worsen the outlook. In this study, we identify the relationship between tourism and water use on the Hawaiian island of O‘ahu. Hawai‘i closed almost entirely to tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic, which provides a unique natural experiment to study the relationship between tourism and water use. Empirically, we estimate that a 1% decline in the number of tourists was associated with a 0.4% to 0.65% lower water use in the hotel sector. However, decreased water use from a drop in Airbnb reservations was offset by an increase in work-from-home arrangements for residents.

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