Balance of tourism and residents' interests is necessary
A survey has found that most residents believe the state is being run for tourists at the expense of local people.
RESIDENTS' negative attitudes toward Hawaii's No. 1 industry point to frustration with the strains the growth of tourism and population place on their communities rather than a dislike for travelers themselves.
The sentiments that emerged in a new survey for the Hawaii Tourism Authority aren't unfamiliar. However, because the troubling issues -- traffic, high housing costs and stresses on natural resources and the environment -- have shifted how islanders view tourism, government and industry leaders should be concerned.
The survey found that for the first time since 1988, a majority of residents believe that their islands are "being run for tourists at the expense of local people."
Though residents acknowledge the economic importance of the industry, fewer agree that tourism has been largely good for them, and more see slim chances for job advancement with the best jobs going to "outsiders."
The perception is that the industry offers poor-paying jobs. Indeed, the survey showed that households with at least one tourism worker had lower median incomes than those employed outside the industry -- this despite the fact that tourism households had more working members than non-tourism households.
Even so, residents working in tourism or who had family members who do were more likely to have better views of the industry, evidence that without tourism, they felt jobs would be harder to come by.
The love-hate relationship Hawaii has with tourism represents residents' recognition that while there are far worse industries on which to base an economy, they also want controls in place, such as limiting new hotel construction to areas already accommodating resorts and disallowing government aid, such as tax incentives, for them.
The survey showed that the top concern among residents is the cost of housing. Though the connection between tourism and housing isn't drawn in the analysis, the qualities that attract tourists to Hawaii also attract them to stay.
The survey's results indicate that residents believe the industry should be doing more to help with problems caused by increasing numbers of visitors, including the effects on the environment and use of natural resources. Where in 2002, most islanders agreed that visitor activity in wilderness areas should be encouraged, now only 36 percent feel the same. Moreover, about 80 percent have consistently supported using much of the tax revenue from tourism to preserve the environment.
Tourism is a clean and desirable industry that shares residents' interests in sustaining Hawaii's assets. In addition, the industry's goal of attracting higher-spending visitors -- not greatly increasing their numbers -- would relieve a spectrum of pressures on the islands and residents.
Without the support of Hawaii's people, the industry cannot thrive and without tourism, the economy will not flourish. Achieving a sound balance advantageous to both must be sought.