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StarBulletin.com

Hope for future is best gift of all


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POSTED: Friday, December 25, 2009

The numbers are not in, but Hawaii retailers say they experienced more spending in the weeks leading up to Christmas than many had expected. That and various economic indications are enough to warrant hopes of a slow movement toward recovery and an upturn in tourism by the next Yuletide.

Holiday sales were “;certainly not what they were a couple of years ago, but better than last year,”; Jeff Chang Pottery & Fine Crafts owner Karon Chang told the Star-Bulletin's Nina Wu earlier this week. “;People are relaxing a little bit and are not as fearful.”;

At Pearlridge Center, all 7,000 parking spots were filled last weekend. “;It was fantastic,”; said Fred Paine, the center's manager. “;From what I'm hearing, merchants are extremely excited. People were spending almost like the good old days.”;

Ironically, many state employees used their Furlough Fridays to shop for items to put under their trees.

More good news: The University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization reported a week ago that most industries will begin making new hires after the New Year, and construction job losses in the islands should end by late 2010. Housing prices have likely bottomed out, says Carl S. Bonham, UHERO's director.

As in the past, tourism should reflect the mainland economy and is expected to improve more than had earlier been forecast, with visitor arrivals growing by 3.7 percent in 2010 over this year's total, Bonham says. However, he says daily room rates are expected to languish through next year.

Readers of Travel Weekly voted for Hawaii this week as the best state destination.

Native son Barack Obama's well-publicized holiday on Oahu won't hurt.

“;The popularity of U.S. President Barack Obama has had a lot to do with making America, and in particular Hawaii, more fashionable with British tourists,”; says a spokesman for DialAFlight, a major British travel agency.

All of this improvement will come too late to rescue Hawaii's state and county governments from continued problems in achieving balanced budgets. The Lingle administration has tried to cope with a $721 million deficit in this fiscal year and faces a projected $509.5 million in the red in the coming fiscal year.

But the recovery signs give hope. In that spirit, it is crucial that leaders — indeed, all of Hawaii's decision-makers — tamp obstructionist egos and make smart choices going forward.

One plum opportunity appears to be the tentative agreement between the teachers union and the Department of Education to reduce the number of Furlough Fridays in the year ahead. If approved, it would give education a needed boost, and help Hawaii families cope while awaiting economic recovery.