If we want the tourists to come, we have to bring back old Hawaii
Regarding the article "HTA mulls $6.5M shot in arm: Funding could help the tourist industry, which appears to be in a downward spiral" (Star-Bulletin, July 30):
How can funding help the tourist industry?
To market the message? "Please come to Hawaii." "Uh OK, but whaddya got that they don't?" "Well, nothing, really, anymore. But still: Please come to Hawaii!"
The article tells us we are known as a "luxury-branded leisure destination." Not an exotic, romantic, tropical getaway, as Hawaii once was. With the paving over of what we and tourists knew as "Old Hawaii," and being supplanted by luxury hotels and multinational stores and corporate chain restaurants, somehow, the Hawaii Tourism Authority thinks we are still unique.
It is being reported that travelers are cutting back on spending. Well, we have shot ourselves in the foot trying to make Honolulu and Waikiki another expensive, generic resort town, bulldozing all the budget boutique hotels, chasing away the character-laden, Hawaiian-style, inexpensive restaurants and bars, and welcoming the same dagblasted eateries you can find in any city across America. What do tourists want? Hawaii, in a word. Plain and simple. But no ... we have to compete with all the other resort destinations of the world and have the same things they do.
What did we sacrifice? That which made us unique. That which brought back countless tourists time and time again through decades past: Old Polynesian architecture. Old-style Hawaiian and Polynesian entertainment. An island paradise. Now, long gone. We have turned Honolulu into another Wilshire Boulevard or Las Vegas. What once was a charming vacation spot with our own unique culture, music, scenery, pristine oceans, restaurants and shops you couldn't find anywhere else, in a locale imbued with a real sense of place, is now an overdeveloped, overburdened concrete jungle with beaches laden with bacteria that kills and greed run amok, which has killed the much-hyped aloha spirit.
And for some reason the so-called "powers that be" don't seem to want to give the people what they want, what they come here for. Visitor count down? Raise the lodging rates! Tourist spending down? Knock down more local shops and low-rise lava, wood and bamboo buildings and erect another chrome-and-glass strip mall with more mainland shops!
We have shown utter disrespect and disregard for our islands and their indigenous culture. With our finite resources, fragile ecosystem and delicate limited infrastructure, we can't take too many hints from the mainland save for this one: I spent some time in Santa Barbara, which has building and architectural guidelines, codes and height limits. This is to retain the "mission look" of the area. Santa Barbara depends heavily on tourism, almost as much as we do, but it defends and maintains its sense of place much more than we do.
We should take a hint from Santa Barbara. We should have such a jealously guarded attitude about our Old Hawaiian culture as to be the envy of other vacation destinations. Instead we have taken the opposite view -- destroy everything that people come to Hawaii for. Pave over, and don't initiate landmark status on the cool old buildings that make Waikiki, Honolulu and Oahu what it was.
Remember the Tahitian Lanai? This was a tourist draw and a local hangout. What's there now? Another tower, sandwiched between other towers. ("Look Madge, we've got a beautiful view ... into another hotel room!") Remember Ulu Mau Village, where locals and malihini learned how the Hawaiians of old lived? I remember field trips there from Keolu Hills Elementary. Remember Queen's Surf and the Barefoot Bar and Sterling Mossman's kolohe hapa-haole shows there? It was a favorite among locals, as were many Waikiki venues and shows. This brought first-time and returning tourists time and time again to the islands.
It is our responsibility to bring back "Old Hawaii." Then we will bring back the tourists (and even locals) to Waikiki and the islands. And we can be proud of our "sense of place" for it has returned, and most importantly, we have done what is pono.
Allen "Kimo" St. James, a videographer and authority on Hawaiiana, was born and raised in Hawaii. He lives in Honolulu.