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Cleaning needed


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POSTED: Monday, April 20, 2009

Hotel occupancy is at its lowest in 18 years. Another blow to our wobbling visitor industry.

This is a worrying signal for our economy, which depends heavily on tourism for tax revenue, jobs and businesses in general.

And yet we don't see any tangible action targeted to stop the slide and slowly begin to reverse the tide. It seems that those responsible for making policy decisions and taking concrete steps to implement a viable and effective strategy are just waiting for the economy to start recovering (it may be a long wait) or hoping for some kind of miracle to happen.

In urging a strategy, I used the word “;effective”; rather than “;efficient”; because in my mind there is a clear difference in the meaning of the two words. Efficiency is doing things right, effectiveness is doing “;the right things.”; I am sure that what we do to cater to our visitors, we do right. But the question is: Is what we are doing the right thing? We are not going to solve the problem and reverse the trend simply by throwing money at it. Quite the contrary. We already spent billions in designing and building a “;new”; Hawaii that no one seems to want.

It is difficult to talk about the same problems without being repetitive, but unless we continuously urge our officials to take action and remind them of the challenges that we all are facing, we run the risk of sliding into complacency and ineffectiveness. HTA and other agencies spend a lot of money in advertising and promoting Hawaii. Please allow me to repeat what I wrote in my previous article: “;The best client is the one you already have.”;

We have had millions of visitors that have been our strongest advertising message, going back to their cities and countries describing the wonders of Hawaii, the beauty of its shores and landscapes, and the friendliness and kindness of its people. And for a long time they did that. But now the trend is reversed. No one is singing the praises of Hawaii anymore and our “;leaders”; should ask themselves why.

What needs to be done now is to swallow the bitter pill, recognize the miscalculations and mistakes and implement a series of effective measures to win the visitors back. Clearly a lot of damage to our coastline, beaches and landscapes has been done and cannot be reversed.

The visitor's perception is that, for what Hawaii is offering now, we are way overpriced in every aspect. That is one of the problems that we need to address. Stop the gimmicks like “;free breakfast”; or “;complimentary cocktail on arrival.”; Visitors don't care about it. Let's implement a truly competitive price structure that encompasses not only hotels rooms, but eateries, shops, amenities and all the things that visitors are looking for and value the most. Win back the kamaaina by welcoming them with open arms and a sincere appreciation all the time and not only when they are needed to fill a gap.

We need to clean our beaches, improve public facilities and keep our streets, beaches and parks safe and attractive. There is no charm in dirty streets and roads, graffiti on walls and piles of rubbish dumped in our beauty spots.

Someone said to me once, “;I am very disappointed. I came in search of Hawaii but I couldn't find it.”; We all need to reflect on that.

At the helm of our tourism industry we need someone who not only understands Hawaii but, most important, has traveled extensively nationally and internationally, speaks some other languages, has a sound understanding of what the visitors want and need and has a good grasp on how successful tourism is handled and promoted in other countries and how it is integrated into their infrastructure. A sign of good leadership is to recognize errors, find solutions and implement them.

To reverse this negative trend we need action now. Procrastination, hesitation and timidity will only sink our tourism deeper into the crisis. To be able to fly, one not only needs wings, he also has to flap them.

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Franco Mancassola, a frequent contributor to the Star-Bulletin opinion pages, founded Discovery Air and Debonair Airways. He also was vice president of international operations for Continental Airlines and World Airways. He lives in Hawaii.