2014: We’ve Seen This Before

It’s that time of the year when most of us want to sweep out the old and invite in the new.

That sounds nice, but I don’t think Hawaii residents are going to see many new things in 2014.

First, the politics in Hawaii are not going to change. In fact, they are probably going to become a bit more extreme after the governor’s politically masterful handling of our new same-sex marriage law. As I’ve said before, the manner in which the bill was handled has got to arouse the competitive spirit in political action committees all over the state, as well as other states and countries that have their eye on Hawaii’s tourism population.

Second, the long struggle by advocates of the casino gambling industry to get a foot in the front door of Hawaii’s hotel business could have a good year at the Legislature. Under the guise of increasing state revenue and creating more jobs, it will be a lively debate.

The state’s political leadership also will be hotly contested. There are a lot of key offices up for grabs and not many clear front-runners. It doesn’t seem possible for the Republicans to stop fighting with each other long enough to come up with a viable strategy to at least scare the ruling Democrats. Example: As the new year unravels, Republicans still don’t have viable candidates for any of the key races.

The interesting battles will be among Democrats.

It’s obvious now that if retailers are going to survive in Hawaii, they are going to need a robust online shopping strategy. Just advertising on the sides of TheBus is not going to make it.

And following that extreme theme, the same argument can be made for the rail system that’s supposed to surface in full force. Ridership is going to be a hot topic, as someone will be hired to figure out how to get people to park their cars somewhere while they ride the train somewhere else – though not to the university or certain shopping centers in Honolulu.

The final straw could come with the arrival of thousands of new visitors from China. Maybe you heard a few loudspeakers beckoning to Chinese tourists to visit their stores. This has happened to us before when the Japanese discovered Hawaii as a tourist destination and Gensiro Kawamoto bought half of Kahala Avenue without getting out of his limo.

What will they be looking for? To begin with, they will want more bicycles to get around. There are some politicians already pursuing that. Additionally, like the Japanese tourists before them, they will want more public attractions and facilities identified in Chinese, not just Japanese, Hawaiian and English. And be warned ahead of time, the Chinese are a different kind of tourist. Many are not as polite and unassuming as the Japanese. Simply put, they can be a little more assertive, but that will be an educational challenge. If the influx follows the example of the Japanese, the next thing is to start buying real estate, hotels, bus companies and increase airline arrivals and departures.

We’ve seen all these things happen before in Hawaii, so just relax and go with the flow. It might not be a totally “new” year, but at least there’s going to be a lot of action in 2014.