The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources will require permits for all commercial weddings taking place on state beaches, effective Aug. 1.
The right-of-entry permit system has been on the books since 2002 but rarely has been enforced. An abrupt increase in permit applications early this year caused the DLNR to question whether commercial use was hindering community access to public beaches, according to Deborah Ward, the department's public information specialist.
"Part of what we're hoping to do is collect data to get the actual extent to which people are using the beach [for weddings]," Ward said. "If eight weddings are going on at a given area or beach, what does that do for the people who want to use the beach? The permit allows for commercial use that does not detract from the public's right to a public beach."
Veteran wedding planners like Tim Clark, president of Hawaiian Island Weddings, welcomed the permit's revival, while relative newcomers to the industry complained to the DLNR that they needed more time to comply and still others involved in beach ceremonies expressed fears in the local press that enforcement of the permit rule would hurt tourism.
"There's some media slant in the articles that this is going to put everybody out of business," Clark said. "That's not going to happen. The people who are up in arms over this are people who are new and don't have the proper credentials, such as liability insurance. They're not following the rules."
The right-of-entry permit system requires wedding planners and other professionals to obtain a permit that identifies the location and size of the area being requested for the event and the county tax map key number for the site. Those applying for the permit also must provide proof of having $300,000 in liability insurance coverage per event and pay a fee equal to 10 cents per square foot of the requested area per day, with a minimum of $20.
Clark said the permit system "is going to separate the real wedding companies from disreputable companies."
"People who book weddings on beaches in Hawaii are going to be assured they're dealing with reputable companies," he said.
Clark said he and other wedding planners have been working with the state government to get an annual permit passed.
"They don't want to willy-nilly give everybody an annual permit," he said. "They want to find out what the impact is, how many weddings are really going on. That's why they're doing this pilot program."
The application, which is available on the DLNR website, is "only two pages," Clark said.
"It's just a little extra paperwork, and it's only about $20," he said. "Some places charge $300. It's not unreasonable, and it's going to make us feel better that we have a permit when we're down on the beach."