Advertisement - Click to support our sponsors.

Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, June 22, 2000

Lanai’s transition
to tourism

LANAI is a company town, or rather a company island. It is run autocratically, not democratically, by David Murdock, whose companies already control the island but who now is seeking full ownership.

It could be other than an autocracy, of course, but I'm not sure it would be as successful.

There's the rub. Lanai was first made famous when Jim Dole bought it early in the 20th century to raise pineapples. These it provided in abundance. It was a one-industry island.

But the pineapple industry was pulled out from under Hawaii and Lanai by cheaper production elsewhere. Dole's 1930s depression years successor as owner of Lanai was the original Castle and Cooke company, founded back in the 19th century. It saw trouble coming and sought other uses for the island.

C&C homed in on resort use as the most viable alternative. It did detailed planning. But then -- very short of cash -- it sold all its operations, including Dole pineapple and other food lines, to David Murdock, a mainland investor. He made an offer after reading of C&C's troubles even though he knew little about agriculture.

Murdock took charge. He changed the company's name to Dole, cognizant of it as a world-famous brand name, and juggled its subsidiaries into various sub-companies, some reusing or adapting the Castle and Cooke name.

He fell in love with Lanai, took it for his own personal responsibility and decided it should become the premier resort destination it now is -- even if it lost money, which it has been doing at a fortunately decreasing rate.

Murdock ordered construction of a tiled palace called the Manele Bay Resort to satisfy lovers of surf and sand, then built a genteel English manor-type hostelry, Koele Lodge, at a cooler 1,500 feet above sea level, where Lanai ranch headquarters used to be -- thus the fine stand of pines leading to it.

Koele's great hall, lush rooms, manicured gardens, ponds and overriding genteel ambience have won it honors near and far -- deservedly.

Lanai is a nearly unbelievable haven from traffic with uncrowded roads, no traffic lights and no parking meters. Also very little crime.

But what of Lanai City's some 3,000 residents, who used to earn their livelihood through pineapple? Murdock has overseen retraining to orient the population to tourism.

His success is considerable. My brief visits suggest residents are happy, with not significantly more grumbles than when Lanai was a pineapple island rather than a tourist island.

The No. 1 dissenter, Ron McOmber, says too many people have to work two or three jobs or turn to casual labor. But he's a resident of 37 years with no plans to leave or to silence his frequent dissenting voice at public hearings.

McOmber helps manage the tiny state airport that serves the island. He has beautified it with greatly improved planting that must please even Murdock. The tycoon, however, has won a court order keeping McOmber off Murdock company properties because of his improper entry to get water flow data.

That leaves the highways, airport, harbor and Lanai City for McOmber to roam on. He does some off-island hunting and says he remains happy. In his different way, he loves Lanai as much as Murdock and through public hearings tries to stand up for "the little man."

Given the limited options that Lanai had as pineapple phased out, I think Lanai has pretty much lucked out. A different owner or owners still would likely have to turn to tourism for economic salvation. Few or none might have achieved it as impeccably as Murdock has done.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2000 Honolulu Star-Bulletin