Re-opening Hawaii to it’s tourism golden egg is going to send cheers through those who own hotels restaurants, shops and tour operations.
It’s going to be a tough sell for Gov. David Ige among those not connected directly to the tourist dollar and have grown disenchanted with 35,000 outsiders on our beaches and roads every month.
On one side, people need their jobs back. On the other, they’d like to regain some of the pre-statehood charm and be more like Fiji than Hong Kong.
There’s a resurgence of longing for “Old Hawaii” — fantasizing about the 1920s and 1930s, two hotels in Waikiki and visitors arriving by sea rather than air. The song Aloha ‘Oe by Queen Lili‘uokalani was heard around the world.
But of course longing for that period is also to acknowledge the bad working conditions for Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos in sugar or pineapple fields, racial injustice, an overwhelming haole culture, and the land and the prime businesses owned by the master families.
Tourism was in its infancy. The wealthy came to see the 1927 Royal Hawaiian Hotel in all its early splendor and maybe play golf at the then-seaside course at Waialae. Most stayed in Waikiki and were not yet a substantial element in our economy.
We had a bump in visitors after WWII and then a really big one when we became a state. Mainlanders were more comfortable coming here then. Before that, we were considered “foreign.”
Then came the wave. The radio show Hawaii Calls helped draw people here. So did Arthur Godfrey. We were exotic. Eventually, sugar and pineapple would fail. We did have the military bases. But mainly we had tourism as our bread and butter. Rich tourists. Some even brought their cars with them on the Matson ocean liner. Airlines brought most by the many hundreds daily.
We went from the few and the rich to the masses and the cut rate crowd looking for cheap stays, cheap rental cars. We had the birth of the “transient visitor unit”. Crowded Waikiki sidewalks. Crowded roads. Crowded beaches. High revenue only by constantly upping the number of cheap-spending tourists.
And now, even as residents chafe over those 10 million that were coming the year before the virus, the chief of our business and tourism department is saying we have to live with tourism as our only economic winner.
I suspect a sizable number of residents are going to push back and say “no, we don’t, not if our leaders start developing other winners.”
That would be technology, our Cancer Center at the UH, the Thirty Meter Telescope, and innovative businesses yet to be imagined.
Alas, the leaders keep talking tourism. Now they’re suggesting we go for fewer but those who spend more and are willing to pay more for admission to things that are free for kamaaina.
That’s mostly a pipe dream.
Societies and businesses that fail to change as times change, fail to innovate, fail to reinvent themselves have always been doomed — and that will not be avoided here.
You need to think about that this November as you vote for Honolulu mayor and legislators, and especially 2024 when you vote for a new governor.