Hawaii's tourism strategy flawed


POSTED: Monday, June 29, 2009

On Thursday, I attended the luncheon of the Hawaii Economic Association where the guest speaker was the state tourism liaison. My motive for attending was propelled by the desire to learn what action plan the state will implement in trying to correct this negative trend in visitor decline that so adversely affects our state economy. However, my expectations, and those of other attendees were to be disappointed. We left with all our questions unanswered and with a blurred vision of the state's strategy, assuming that they have one.

Instead of a reassuring explanation that a viable plan is in place, we were treated with a series of padded excuses, a bunch of unrealistic pipe dreams and litanies of meaningless statistics. I always take statistics with a pinch of salt because often people use them the same way drunks use street lamp posts; more for support than for illumination. We were told that our tourism leaders have dreams of luring European visitors to Hawaii. Dream on. Europeans have, within two to three hours of flying (or driving) the Cote D'Azur, Monte Carlo, the Italian Riviera, the Amalfi Coast, Sardinia, Spain, Portugal, Egypt, Turkey, Greece and many more fabulous places to choose from. The number of visitors from Europe, if we will ever get some, will be so negligible that probably won't warrant a single dollar spent.

We were also told that people are now “;bargain hunting”; instead of paying the price that is asked of them. Really? What a revelation! People have been hunting for bargains since time immemorial and they will continue to look for value for money, something that we, here in Hawaii, don't offer anymore.

During this long and disjointed explanation, I suddenly realized how clueless the Hawaii Tourism Authority seems to be and I found myself thinking of that famous country song by Carrie Underwood, “;Jesus, take the Wheel”;!

The true fact of the matter is that our tourism industry was already suffering as the result of bad planning and poor judgment well before the economy took a setback. Our visionary leaders redesigned Hawaii for the imaginary visitors that existed only in their heads. And the end results are now here for all to see. Blaming the global recession is just a temporary excuse. How long will it hold?

We can't solve the problem in its entirety but perhaps we can take corrective action and minimize the damage. If we can correct the tourism negative trend and return Hawaii to the destination that it once was, affordable, friendly, charming and enticing, we may be able to increase revenue and soften the blow; medicine is never pleasant to take but at times is necessary if your well being depends on it. And the time to take a strong dose of it is now.

To fix it, we first need the courage to admit our mistakes and take action to correct them. Times are hard and lean, but people still travel and take vacations. Let's make Hawaii affordable and attractive again. Let's drop the pretense that we are Monte Carlo or St. Tropez and let's sell our product at a price that is more in line with what we really have to offer. Forget the speculators, like the Wall Street greedy bankers—they are gone! And we are left to hold the bag.

What needs to be done now is to swallow the bitter pill and implement a series of effective measures to win the visitors back. Clearly a lot of damage to our coastline, beaches and landscape has been done and cannot be reversed. Let's implement a truly competitive price structure, and I mean really competitive, that encompasses not only hotel rooms, but eateries, shops, amenities and all the things that visitors are looking for and value the most.

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.

Yes, the global economy is to blame now, but I am convinced that we can still improve our local economy. With the dollar at its lowest in years, Hawaii should be attractive to international tourism and is home for the American visitors. And like home, it should be welcoming. By improving our tourism industry we will also increase the flow of revenue, minimize the loss of jobs and improve the local economy.


Hawaii resident Franco Mancassola, founder of Discovery Air and Debonair Airways, has also served as vice president international with Continental Airlines and World Airways.