Bill will help Hawaii harness its history to help our economy


POSTED: Friday, February 20, 2009

It comes as no surprise to anyone that our economy is suffering along with the rest of the United States. And part of the solution to get our economy moving again will necessarily focus on the tourism industry. According to the State of Hawaii Data Book, in 2007, tourism contributed more than $12.8 billion in direct visitor expenditures. Clearly, tourism is the main driver of our economy at this time.

Our tourism takes advantage of the natural assets that Hawaii has to offer - gorgeous views, ocean recreation and active volcanoes, to name just a few. However, our tourism industry has yet to place a stronger focus on and take better advantage of another asset that Hawaii has to offer, an asset that equals increased direct spending and longer stays by visitors. That asset is our heritage.

According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, visitors to historic sites and cultural attractions spend $623 on average per trip compared with $457 per trip for all U.S. travelers, exclusive of travel costs. Several factors should make this statistic important to tourism leaders.

First, with visitor counts down, it behooves tourism officials to market to tourists who would spend more, and as shown above, heritage tourists spend more.

Second, the newly elected president is a local son, and all things Obama are generating huge interest, including where he lived and played. That interest should be an easy and timely wave for tourism officials to catch.

Third, the assets are already here. It is akin to placing a new wrinkle on an existing product. Many of us probably live within walking distance of a place rich in the history of Hawaii and the culture of its people. And like the interest in things Obama, focusing on our heritage sites is also timely.

On Jan. 30, a bill - S. 359 - was introduced in the U.S. Senate calling for the designation of a National Heritage Area for the Capitol District, which includes lands from Kalihi to Kakaako. Besides the eligibility to receive grants and funding from the federal government for renovation and rehabilitation, the designation has been shown to increase tourism to the designated area.

S. 359, the announcement of the legislation at Aliiolani Hale and its likely congressional hearing in the near future are the culmination of years of hard work and persistence by all advocates of heritage tourism. Most notable among those advocates are the members of the Hawaii Capitol Cultural District, who labored tirelessly to create another brand for Hawaii's tourism industry.

Clearly, the pieces are there, and the time has come for our tourism leaders to push heritage tourism, which, if done correctly, can be an important source of revenue for our state. I have often introduced measures to support this tourism marketing direction, including measures for renovation funds, interpretive signage, protection of historic sites and requesting the National Heritage Area designation, which is tantalizingly close to reality. As we celebrate the birthday of the “;Great Uniter,”; Abraham Lincoln, and at the dawn of the presidency of another potential great uniter, I would hope that we could all come together to preserve and protect Hawaii's treasures and to prosper from them.


Republican Corinne W. L. Ching is assistant minority floor leader of the state House. She represents District 27 (Nuuanu-Liliha-Alewa Heights).