Back to Basics
Hawaii's tourist market lost its way when it turned its back on traditional visitors
I read with surprise the article "State aid sought for isle hotels" in Wednesday's Star Bulletin, and I am wondering if these hotel executives are serious or if they even understand the situation Hawaii's tourism is in now and for which they are partially responsible.
Hawaii had a perfect niche with the average American visitor. They were coming to Hawaii because of its good weather, lovely beaches, affordable accommodations, relaxing atmosphere, colorful shops selling local souvenirs and many little restaurants where visitors could eat at reasonable prices.
Then it all changed. The Japanese tourists arrived with their appetite for designer clothes and designer accessories and we got mesmerized and seduced by their spending power. Quick-thinking developers and shortsighted hotel executives rushed to redesign Hawaii. Gone were the affordable family hotels, the affordable eateries and the cute although somewhat passe little shops.
They were replaced by pompously redecorated and refurbished hotel lobbies and, although the rooms remained basically the same size (small), the rates skyrocketed out of reach for the traditional American visitors who had provided our bread and butter for many years. We have "beautified" Waikiki with upscale shops selling merchandise that very few people can afford and trendy restaurants with prices that are off limits for many of us. Someone thought, "We have a new image now, the rich visitors are coming."
But in this excited rush to change, someone forgot some basic realities:
1. People with spending power have the power to spend their money wherever they like.
2. To cater to high-spending visitors, one must have all the infrastructures and amenities that high spenders are looking for. A few redecorated hotel lobbies and luxury shops don't make the cut.
3. We have great weather. But if people come here for the weather, naturally they want to go to the beach. Has anyone looked at the state of our beaches lately?
Now the people with spending power seem to have moved on in search of a new paradise, new and better playgrounds or whatever else they are looking for. We have turned our backs on the traditional visitor who had a more modest budget. However, it was these visitors who provided a steady income for our economy and they regarded Hawaii as paradise.
Did someone goof and get the whole planning scenario wrong? It sure looks like it.
So, what is the solution? It might be that we need to go back to the drawing board and return to the way we were. Hotels, shops and restaurants need to bite the bullet, recognize that Hawaii is not a place for "high rollers and big spenders" and realign the price structures to be more in step with today's market realities.
Get rid of these strategic thinkers who probably did very well for themselves but created the mess that we are in now by making us believe that our reach is as good as our grasp. It is not. Going back to basics might create a temporary financial loss, but it will be far more achievable and less painful than stubbornly continuing down this high road that leads to nowhere.
The state and the taxpayer should not have to rescue a failing strategy that led to macroscopic misjudgments.
Franco Mancassola was the founder of Discovery Airways. He lives in Hawaii Kai.