View Point

By Carol Tsai

Friday, May 2, 1997

Let’s find out
why the Aloha State has
lost its luster

Advertising Hawaii
isn't enough any more;
we have to treat tourists better

I've been reading the newspapers and attending legislative hearings for two years, listening to testimony on how to kickstart our economy and increase tourism. The only solution seems to be throwing more money into generic advertising about our Aloha State.

I have walked along the banks of the Nile and sailed up and down the Yangtse River, and have yet to meet someone who could afford to travel and not know about Hawaii.

So why aren't they coming? The reasons are numerous, but advertising like the "Thumbs Up" campaign is not the answer.

Maybe it has to do with the demise of the aloha spirit.

The aloha spirit was to stop your car the minute you saw a tourist crossing the street. It was when a tourist asked, "How do you get to Hanauma Bay?" and you'd say, "I'll take you there."

It was inviting visitors who were friends of friends to your home for some real local food. It was stringing plumeria from your backyard into leis and giving them away. It was so many things and so long ago.

For well over 20 years now, when Asian visitors arrive at Honolulu Airport, they are often treated like criminals by immigration and customs officials. This is especially true for wealthy tourists, since they tend to have expensive jewelry.

I used to wait for hours at the airport for my clients or friends from the Orient to clear customs. Many swore they'd never return or would avoid Hawaii as a port of entry.

Now that Asian Airlines has canceled its stopovers, we have lost those tourists. What good is advertising to lure them here, but then treating them so poorly when they arrive?

I have traveled all over the world, and Hawaii's customs is on par with only one country, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia doesn't issue tourist visas and it doesn't want tourists.

I go to California, our biggest market, regularly and professional people there tell me, "Our whole family used to vacation in Hawaii, but we haven't been there for years."

"Why?" I would ask. The answer: "It's just not attractive anymore!"

I was in Taiwan recently and a hairdresser told me that, although she's heard of Hawaii and would like to come, her friend just returned from the islands and warned her about thieves, robbers and rip-off artists.

The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau should update its surveys to include more questions about the quality of the vacation experience. Like all major businesses, we should ask for an evaluation when visitors leave the islands. I believe that many of our tourists are here because of our residual good reputation.

Let's find out if they want to return. And if not, why not? That way we won't be facing our current dilemma: Spending money to attract tourists and not knowing why they stay away!

Carol Tsai, a city employee, is the former owner
of a real estate company. The opinions in View Point columns are
the authors' and are not necessarily shared by the Star-Bulletin.

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