News agencies around the world are capitalizing on the 14-day isolation period in Hawaii, and spinning the news that there is no Aloha anymore. When a visitor is arrested, fined, or sent home, it makes international headlines. The press has also picked up on normally tourist-friendly organizations and businesses being called on to change their focus for the time being.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), for example, became something akin to the police, making sure visitors were staying in their rooms during those 14 days, by checking on them. Hotels joined in by making visitor room keys valid only the first day of stay, and to report anyone who left the room and needed another key. Soon these industries will need to reset and return to their original mission.
This furor has also fired up some Kamaaiana who now negatively talk about tourism.
Public relations nightmare lurking.
How does Hawaii become visitor-friendly again? The bottom line is unambiguous: Everything and everyone here in Hawaii is directly or indirectly touched by tourism. It isn’t 25% or 35% of the economy, it is far greater.
While we have always wanted a more diversified economy for Hawaii, that simply has not materialized and could not happen fast enough to save Hawaii. Here’s what we said recently: “Hawaii loves and needs its visitors, and our visitors love and will continue to come to Hawaii. A visitor based economy always has its challenges, but this is perhaps as close as can be to heaven on earth.”
When we look around our immediate environment here at Beat of Hawaii, we see the impact tourism has on so many. One neighbor works for the Marriott and has for decades, another for the Sheraton and yet another at the Hyatt. Someone we know owns a small store that is closed. We drive by farms whose produce largely serves restaurants that now face an uncertain future. And so it goes.
One of our friends from the mainland, who spends half the year here volunteering to make Kauai better, got fined in early April for walking on a beach without a visitor pass. Beaches have reopened now and so a pass is no longer needed. But for this friend who has helped our community for years, it felt like a bad sting, and she now has to go to court in late May.
Some of you are telling us you may not in fact return to Hawaii, and are looking at other places to travel. A comment from one of our long-time website visitors, TJ, got us thinking about this. Here is an excerpt of what she wrote:
“Like it or not Hawaii’s primary industry is tourism. For those of us living on the mainland it is very unsettling to hear Hawaii residents make (negative) statements. Be very careful about what you wish for. If you follow what mainland tourists are saying you would know that the message that you (and a few others) are sending, is being heard loud and clear. Many visitors are choosing to go elsewhere to spend their hard-earned dollars; in a place where locals appreciate them.”
What’s concerning here is a change in attitudes towards Hawaii that we see not only from TJ but in many of the hundreds of comments left on How Do Hawaii Residents Honestly Feel About Tourists. And, while it is true that we here are enjoying less traffic and uncrowded beaches, the reality is hitting that billions in tourism dollars are not being pumped into the economy right now. Eventually, this will bite all of us here, and to a degree never before seen.
TJ went on to say:
“All visitors are not bad or disrespectful. We are just like you, and love Hawaii… Not all residents of Hawaii are happy to be out of work and in many cases unable to provide for the basic necessities of life.
The bottom line is, not all visitors are bad and Hawaii needs us. Visitors should always respect both the islands and its residents. There is both good and bad in every walk of life. Please don’t lump all visitors together and say that we’re all bad. Hawaii is paradise, but doesn’t belong to only you.”
We also heard from Colleen, Beat of Hawaii’s most frequent commenter ever, who has been part of our website ohana for nearly 12 years. She is an outspoken advocate for Hawaii tourism in her own right. She said:
“We, also, are seriously ‘rethinking’ our 2021 trip to the islands. Too much hassle. Too costly. TOO INCONVENIENT… Keep things closed down another few months – or, heaven forbid, an entire year. Few businesses will survive that… Thinking the ‘great American Road Trip’ is sounding better all the time.”
This worries us.
What will it take for you to return to Hawaii?