Islands Offer Many Kinds Of Tourism
The Hawaii Tourism Authority just reported that tourists spent $1.3 billion in Hawaii this past December, a record for the Islands. That figure was part of $12.58 billion in revenue the visitor industry generated in 2011, the second-highest total in history.
Travelers from Canada, Australia and Asia, excluding Japan, upped their numbers by 20 percent or more. Japan, which continues to struggle with last March’s natural disaster, showed gains in spending over 2010, even though the number of Japanese visitors fell 5.1 percent.
We can all hope this economic trend continues in the foreseeable future. As the state’s largest industry and top source of privatesector employment and investment, a strong tourism industry means a healthy economy, more people working and more tax revenue to underwrite public services.
Of course, we know that tourism can turn on a dime.
In recent memory, Hurricane Iwa had a devastating impact on Kaua’i's tourism economy as hotels were destroyed and remained shuttered for months. During the first Gulf War, tourism plummeted as people stayed home. The same happened in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Last year’s Great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused an immediate drop in visitors from that country. There have been other economic crises and developments over the years that have triggered decreases in travel to Hawaii.
We also face stiff competition from other destinations. Mexico is currently billing itself as a cheaper alternative to the Hawaiian Islands. There are other Caribbean, South Pacific and Southeast Asian destinations that are appealing to visitors who might otherwise visit Hawaii.
Then there are costs. Visitor spending reached record levels partly because hotel room rates have climbed. As Outrigger Enterprises Group president and CEO David Carey pointed out in a recent presentation to the Legislature, increases in taxes, utilities, payroll and fringe benefits, and related factors combine to push room rates higher and contribute to Hawaii being less competitive.
That’s another reason we must continue to invest in tourism marketing and diversify our industry. Last week, I made mention of the opening of a Gachon University mini-campus in Waikiki that will bring 500 Korean students a year to study at local institutions. We need to continue our efforts to promote the sports industry, which attracts tens of thousands of athletes and fans alike for events such as the Honolulu Marathon, NFL Pro Bowl and Sony Open. And let’s not forget the benefits and exposure that a vibrant film and television industry brings to our economy, e.g., Hawaii Five-O and The Descendants.
There’s also agri-tourism, cuisine, cultural and historical tourism, and other means of moving beyond what I call our traditional five S’s: sun, sand, sea, surf and spirit of aloha.
We also need to build on the momentum of last November’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. That summit proved that Hawaii was an excellent location for business travel, but our investment of time and money will be for naught if we don’t follow up in a collective and collaborative manner on what was a crowning achievement in this arena. Places such as New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., are prime destinations for meetings and conventions, and given our success with APEC, there’s no reason Hawaii can’t take its place among these cities, especially as a gathering place for business people from the PacificAsian region.
MUFI’S VISITOR HEROES
Position: Area General Manager
Location: Aqua Waikiki Wave and Aqua Waikiki Pearl
Lynette Eastman is in her office by 5:30 a.m. She greets the graveyard shift before they go home, works with the day crew, then interacts with the night crew as they arrive. Building morale is one of Lynette’s priorities, so it comes as no surprise that the two hotels under her supervision are rated the Aqua’s top two in employee satisfaction. It’s also no surprise that she was named Manager of the Year at the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association’s Na Poe Pa’ahana awards program. Both properties are exceeding budget projections, and both took second place honors in the Aqua Spirit Competition at the annual Housekeepers’ Appreciation Picnic, all strong indicators of the enthusiasm of the workers and how successfully they serve their guests.
Lynette is as passionate about community service as she is about Aqua and the hotel industry. She was selected to head the Convoy of Hope Hawaii, a massive outreach project to provide free food and services to those in need. The Convoy attracted nearly 2,000 volunteers to serve about 14,000 attendees, who received groceries, haircuts, health and job assistance, and lunch. She’s also a volunteer for the Prison Ministry with her husband, Bulla. As the administrator, she recruited volunteers for 35 services at several Oahu correctional facilities. She and Bulla even took a trip to minister to the needs of Hawaii inmates at Mainland prisons.