America’s passion for Hawaii began long ago, in the 1960s, after Hawaii became a state. Everything about Hawaii became romanticized with the help of movies, television, and marketing. From slack-key guitar, hula dancing, aloha wear, tikis, and ukulele, to everything Hawaiiana themed and more. It seemed like the infatuation would never stop in our lifetimes. And all that has arguably been great news for our state and its economy. But let’s fast forward to today before a glimpse back in the rearview mirror.
Hawaii’s role in new world travel.
Leadership in travel, at the moment, seems to be a concept entirely missing here in Hawaii, but it will come. It is definitely not emanating from some of the organizations marketing Hawaii, and it isn’t coming from the state legislature. Instead, it may need to be grassroots-inspired, and that, in fact, is what we are starting to see. And here’s how it might be a part of what’s changing.
Where does Hawaii go next?
As we’ve said previously, tourists have loved Hawaii to death for the past 60 years. Hawaii hasn’t figured out how to either keep pace with or manage tourism’s demand.
Frankly, there isn’t much more infrastructure in Hawaii today than there was back then. And yet, Hawaii has more than five times the number of visitors compared with 60 years ago. Something has to change.
In places like Hanauma Bay, Hana, Kauai, and most all of Hawaii’s most desirable destinations, over-tourism took a significant toll on the environment, the people of Hawaii, and the visitors. Quality of life and environmental focus is essential and will not go away. Not in Hawaii and not in other global destinations that are overtouristed.
How many visitors can Hawaii handle?
Is the current ten million too many? What about the projected fifteen million; how can Hawaii cope? Obviously, the state will never keep up; if it did, it might look more like Southern California than Hawaii. So a move away from visitor growth to visitor value is also inevitable.
Making tourism more attractive to Hawaii residents once again.
Hawaii must see a way forward where visitors, residents, and tourism come together. In part, it’s a concept called “tourist attractiveness,” which seeks ways to improve residents’ feelings about Hawaii tourists.
There will be a promising future for Hawaii travel, but this time it will be more of a co-creation for the benefit of all, including, first and foremost, Hawaii residents, visitors, and the tourism industry. Previously, residents had little input into Hawaii’s most important industry.
Remove the perception that Hawaii is anti-visitor.
Hawaii needs to acknowledge that tourists are good and beneficial to our economy, even if, during revenge travel, some of them looked not to be. Hawaii must start seeing visitors more as a part of Hawaii to be able to better work with them. Residents and visitors are responsible for achieving a more harmonious Hawaii and focused on human relations as the main point of tourism. That is a situation where residents and visitors co-exist more peacefully and for mutual benefit.
Enough with the discriminatory fees.
Another thing that will help is for Hawaii to manage escalating vacation costs within its purview and our visitors’ perceptions about those. Also, how about applying fees appropriately and not in inconsistent and discriminatory ways that damage the state’s relations with its visitors?
Hawaii’s golden era. Is it really over?
It reigned for sixty years and was fabulous for many, but not all. Hawaii businesses thrived, and visitors loved every minute of it. The days of a cheap Hawaii vacation, which had been quickly ending anyway, suddenly ended abruptly. At least that part will not be returning.
Moreover, could we say that it is not Hawaii’s golden era but rather travel’s golden era that has gone by the wayside? We find that the same things are true traveling outside of Hawaii, where costs have escalated enormously since before Covid and are frankly shocking. It’s a global phenomenon.
Back in the day, Elvis and jets set Hawaii on fire.
Hawaii tourism, as we know it today, began with jet travel. The Age of Hawaii jet travel is synonymous with Pan Am, which began flying jets to Honolulu just one month after statehood. Jets cut travel time to Hawaii, bringing fewer fares and more passengers than ever before possible. Even earlier, when Pan Am started Hawaii flights in the 30s, it was an exclusive, luxury experience unavailable to most people. Before jet travel, flying to Hawaii cost roughly today’s equivalent of $4,000.
Elvis, the “King of Rock and Roll,” was and remains one of Hawaii’s most significant recent cultural and marketing icons. “Everyone who knew him says there were only two places Elvis felt at home, and they were Memphis and Hawaii,” said Elvis biographer Jerry Hopkins. “Blue Hawaii” filmed at Kauai’s Coco Palms Resort, “Girls! Girls! Girls!,” and “Paradise, Hawaiian Style,” are the three Elvis Hawaii movies.
Not far behind in terms of media-based influence stands television and Hawaii Five-O. That long shelf-life series ran from 1968 to 1980 before reruns. An updated series lasted ten more seasons starting in 2010. It was the longest-running, most successful police drama.
Aloha wear remains, perhaps, Hawaii’s best free advertising.
Who needs HTA and its odd marketing partners? Aloha wear first appeared as early as the 1920s and was based on kimono fabrics. It migrated to the mainland by the 1930s, and the rest is history. Wearing aloha wear was associated with an aspiration to Hawaii’s cool and chic allure. It was made famous by surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku, among others. Aloha wear was thought to have helped the Hawaii travel boom enormously. And that has not diminished to this day.
The unending draw of Pearl Harbor/Arizona Memorial.
The Arizona Memorial was completed twenty years after WWII at Pearl Harbor to honor the 2,500 who died during those attacks. The memorial became an instant draw and is still among today’s most popular attractions.
Surf Culture and the Beach Boys to this day.
With jet travel on, the joining of Hawaii surf culture with travel was imminent. The Beach Boys aided that and their iconic “Let’s go surfing now, everybody’s learning how.” The Hawaii surf culture rocked Southern California. Music from Hawaii became all the rage.
Hawaii music calls visitors to the islands.
That started long before air travel. Hawaiian music was the top genre on the mainland one hundred years ago. Ukulele and Hawaii slack-key included modern, traditional, native, popular, and folk genres. It has never stopped.