Thursday, July 1, 1999

HTA survey finds
mixed feelings
on tourism

Residents love the jobs
but hate the traffic

By Russ Lynch


Residents of Hawaii have a "love-hate" relationship with the tourist industry.

They like the jobs and the economic benefits, but they think the state is too dependent on tourism and don't like what they believe are side effects -- traffic, high prices for food and housing and high crime levels.

Those were the key findings of a new survey of residents by two island survey firms, Market Trends Pacific Inc. and John Knox & Associates. The survey was commissioned by the Hawaii Tourism Authority to help develop its first tourism strategic plan.

The survey was made public at an HTA meeting yesterday, along with a draft version of the strategic plan and another report examining Hawaii's competition in the worldwide tourism market.

The HTA's strategies are aimed at building tourist spending to $14.9 billion a year in 2005, from an estimated $11.1 billion this year, but the plans also include steps to take care of Hawaii residents in the process. The Market Trends survey provided some clues on what has to be done.

Some community and environmental organizations challenge the very idea of increasing tourism numbers. "Should we continue to pour tens of millions of public tax money and give huge tax cuts into promoting more Waikiki-style mass tourism over-development?" said one statement issued outside the HTA meeting at the state Capitol.

Its author, Ira Rohter, said the impression held by groups he represents is that the HTA is looking after business interests at the expense of local residents. His organizations are the Hawaiian Environmental Coalition and Community Revitalization Coalition, which he said represent a wide range of health, environmental and local business organizations.

Similar sentiments have been expressed by the Hawaii chapter of the Sierra Club, which refused to circulate one of the surveys authorized by the HTA on the grounds that it seemed to be asking how to increase tourist traffic without asking whether tourism should be increased at all.

Jeffrey Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club, and Rohter both have had correspondence with the HTA objecting to what they saw as a lack of community participation in developing the strategic plan.

In one letter, Mikulina said the state's natural infrastructure "can barely sustain existing levels of growth" and "more tourism" is not the answer.

The Market Trends report said it sought a community view, conducting more than 1,000 telephone interviews with randomly selected households.

The majority of residents, 58 percent, believe that tourism has had a positive effect on them and their families and the percentages are higher on the neighbor islands, the survey showed. Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed were "unhappy that fewer visitors are coming to Hawaii."

However, the respondents also believe that tourism has had a negative effect on what they consider the big problems in their communities. For instance, 83 percent blamed tourism for negatively affecting traffic and 67 percent said tourism helped push up home prices.

That and several other surveys by consultants KPMG LLP, Laird Christianson Advertising Inc./Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown and Group 70 International Inc., were factored into the HTA's planning process. The strategic plan that resulted contains many community-awareness issues and the HTA's stated mission, under the 1998 law that created it, is to "manage the strategic growth of Hawaii's visitor industry in a manner consistent with the economic goals, cultural values and community interests of Hawaii's people."

The ways to achieve that, provided in the strategic plan, include encouraging the traditional community pride in hosting visitors, keeping the island community involved in developing the various types of tourism and making sure tourism does not hurt but enhances the environment.

The HTA wants to achieve a 4.6 percent annual growth in visitor expenditures through the next five years but with growth rates of only 2 percent to 3 percent in annual visitor arrivals. The idea is to attract visitors who will spend more money than today's visitors do.

Robert Fishman, chief executive officer of the HTA, said later that it is conceivable that Hawaii could have an increase in visitor spending with an actual drop in the number of tourist arrivals.

Tony Vericella, chief executive of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, said the HTA's strategy fits well with that of the HVCB.

"The good news is, it's a cohesive plan," he said.

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