Tourism survey offers meaning, contradiction
THE Hawaii Tourism Authority's "2005 Survey of Resident Sentiments on Tourism in Hawaii
" brings to light several interesting findings. While we disagree with some viewpoints, we respect the differing opinions and believe in the value of raising these issues.
The survey shows that most people appreciate tourism's value and recognize it as Hawaii's breadwinner from Hilo to Hanalei. The majority of residents also give the industry good marks for its contribution to our overall quality of life.
Somewhat contradictory, then, is the feeling that a growing number of people believe "this island is being run for tourists at the expense of local people." The underlying message from these respondents seems to be that the growth of tourism is all pervasive.
It's understandable for some to feel overwhelmed by the pace of our "boom" economy, especially with the increase in land development, community urbanization, traffic and new residents. People might have difficulty disentangling this omnipresent growth from tourism development, which is primarily contained within long-designated resort areas.
Another finding of note was that approximately 70 percent of respondents believe Hawaii should cease hotel development. What's interesting is that there has been virtually no hotel development statewide in the last decade.
On Oahu, the last new hotel built was the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa at Ko Olina in l993. On the neighbor islands, no hotel has been built on Maui since 1993, Kauai since 1990 and the Big Island since 1996. To be fair, one must take into account that other lodging options have increased, namely timeshare projects, resort residential real estate communities, vacation rentals and home-ported cruise ships. Perhaps the sentiment of "no more hotels" is simply a metaphor for putting a cap on the number of visitors to our state.
In fact, many in our industry believe there is a limit to the number of visitors that can comfortably be hosted in Hawaii. Not only must we seek a sustainable tourism model but also trust that state and county governments attend to the broader issue of Hawaii's overall social and environmental carrying capacity.
The HTA report also brings to light the sentiment that the industry is low paying and provides few opportunities for advancement. In 2004 the average annual wage for a hotel industry worker was $33,500, according to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. That's among the highest in the nation.
Moreover, a study done last year by the Hawaii Hotel and Lodging Association showed that 42 percent of our general managers are locally born, as are 48 percent of department heads and 42 percent of executive chefs and sous chefs. These people are among the best and brightest in the industry and their numbers belie the response that too many jobs go to outsiders.
We probably don't do a good enough job letting people know how much the industry as a whole, and hotels in particular, kokua for the local community. Huge amounts of volunteer time and resources are provided to help schools and charitable and civic organizations. We estimate the value of cash and in-kind charitable contributions from hotels at more than $5 million a year. The annual Visitor Industry Charity Walk adds about another $1 million.
Hawaii's tourism industry is undeniably key to Hawaii's economy and has a profound influence on the enrichment of our community. We must maintain its position as a leader in an increasingly competitive global arena. Equally, it's clear that a healthy tourism industry cannot prosper at the expense of our kamaaina way of life. We have a shared interest in protecting and enhancing what makes Hawaii unique, especially the beauty and openness of our environment and the good nature of our people.
As we find the right balance, the return on investment will be an even better quality of life for Hawaii's people. And that's what we all want and hope for.
Murray E. Towill is president of the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association.