Show visitors something more than sun and surf
Franco Mancassola's viewpoint (Star-Bulletin, July 27)
contains much truth, but I would like to add to his comments about tourism in Hawaii.
Prior to World War II, Hawaii tourism was definitely "the carriage trade": Folks came by Matson, stayed two weeks, and the three hotels in Waikiki, plus the Alexander Young downtown, could accommodate them all. After the war, technology began to affect tourism to Hawaii.
The DC-6, then the DC-7 could bring more people per flight and alight on the ground instead of the seaplane runways. It was, however, the Boeing 707, which Pan Am flew to Hawaii starting in 1959, that revolutionized tourism. It brought lots more people, with flights only a few hours from the West Coast, along with a need for new hotels.
Roy Kelly's vision was "smaller hotel rooms, minimal amenities, low prices = many more visitors." Purchasing the Outrigger Canoe Club property, hence the corporate name "Outrigger," Kelly and son oversaw the building of several "minimalist hotels": small rooms, showers (but no tub) and barely enough room for a queen bed. People came! During the late 1960s and especially in the 1970s, the Hawaii Visitors Bureau considered a 10 percent annual growth rate in visitor arrivals to be the norm. However, the floods of medium-income, working-class folks coming to Hawaii caused crowding and environmental degradation, and they spent less than $100 a day per person.
With Japan's relaxation of the yen rules, the growth of Japanese tourism, as Mancassola points out, became hypnotic. Originally, however, the Japanese visitor was encapsulated in a Japanese airline, on a Japanese-owned tour bus, staying in a Japanese-owned hotel and so on. The real economic impact on Hawaii was measurable, but the big bucks were exported to Japan in terms of profits.
Now, as Mancassola says, Waikiki has become a "Rodeo Drive" or a "Palm Springs" in the Pacific while the working-class U.S. tourist is staying home, going elsewhere or practicing the "stay-cation" notion of minimal travel. What he misses is significant, however.
So long as Hawaii tries to "sell" sun, sand, surf, clean air and sex, we are in competition with lots of places, like Baja, the Caribbean and Florida, that can do it more cheaply. The lesson Hawaii has yet to learn, and certainly the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau has improved a bit, is that we are "selling an experience" in culture, history, scenery, sand and more. Only if Hawaii focuses on what is unique about the islands, and not on what we have that lots of other places also have, will tourism succeed.
Mancassola is right on when he describes today's Waikiki and its upscale stores selling all manner of merchandise that can be had in many other places worldwide. There is still a dearth of "Made in Hawaii" items and articles that are first class, interesting and not really made in China.
There is a need for "bottoming out" in the hotel and tourism business so that tourism might settle into an experience that people are willing to pay for. If Hawaii and the HVCB really concentrated on promoting Hawaii as a unique place, the visitors who do come would be appreciative, and we local folks would not feel crowded out or overwhelmed.
Willis H.A. Moore is editor and manager of the Hawaii Geographic Society.