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StarBulletin.com

Paradise lost to concrete jungle


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POSTED: Monday, July 27, 2009

The tidal wave of the bad economy has hit our islands with its full force and we are now facing the harsh reality of coping with all the adverse effects of this economic tsunami: shortfall in state and city revenue, budget cuts, rising unemployment, inflation, foreclosures, state and city workers laid off, etc.

The effort from the governor, the mayors and the unions to avoid people being furloughed is commendable and every avenue should be explored to minimize the impact of people losing jobs. However, there is a basic principle in economics that is impossible to circumvent: “;Revenue is an envelope and all costs must fit in it.”; State revenue took a nosedive and urgent measures must be taken to soften the fall. When an economic downturn hits, it hits hard and we all pay a price. Government employees are not immune.

Here in Hawaii this should not have come as a surprise to anyone. If I am correct in my assumptions, the tourism industry is the primary source of revenue that fuels our economy. But visitor decline began well before the whole economic disaster unraveled in all its magnitude, dragging Hawaii along with it. Our tourism industry was already suffering as the result of bad planning and poor judgment. 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.

What visitors see now, when they arrive in Oahu, is described by Hanya Yanagihara, the Hawaiian-born deputy editor of Conde Nast's Traveler magazine. In the July edition there is an article that she wrote, which reads in part:

“;THE ROMANCE DID NOT BEGIN PROMISINGLY.”;

“;The first thing many tourists see in Hawaii is concrete, a long dreary stretch of it, through landscapes dominated by sad, cheap apartment buildings and almost entirely denuded of plant life. This is the 25-minute drive from Honolulu International Airport to Waikiki and it is one of the ugliest I know, not to mention the most disappointing — this is Hawaii? It takes a lot to stamp out or obscure the place's natural beauty, yet somehow the state has managed to do it.”;

Are we still wondering why visitors are now staying away from our islands?

We lost jobs in construction. That was predictable. We built and built based on the assumption, like the famous movie “;Field of Dreams”; that if we build, they will come. Wrong. Nothing is more lethal in tourism than over-construction. Our visitors were coming in search of peace, tranquility, natural beauty and the exotic atmosphere of Hawaii. We turned the tables on them, all that I described above is now gone and so are the visitors. And with them went jobs in the tourism sector, tax revenue for the state, income and jobs for many other businesses that are indirectly related to tourism.

The loss of jobs created hardship for many people. The homeless population, locals or not, swelled to unprecedented levels. Beaches and the seafront promenade that once was the much sought-after attraction for the visitors, has now become the place of choice for the homeless to set up camp. Also, because of that, the visitors are shying away and with them the revenue that they bring that keeps our economy going.

We have an economic crisis of major proportion that needs to be tackled and solved.

But to solve this crisis, we need a new vision, new focus, new direction and new leaders. Like a poorly performing orchestra, it is not enough to change the music score if the players remain the same.

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Hawaii resident Franco Mancassola founded Discovery Air and Debonair Airways, and was a vice president with Continental Airlines and World Airways. He wrote this commentary for the Star-Bulletin.