Tourism: It Nourishes, Then Devours Us

The talk of the town these days seems to be: how do we tamp down the don’t-tread-on-me tourism business that feeds so many mouths but overruns our roads and beaches and hiking trails such as Diamond Head?

We never developed anything to economically replace it. It’s that and all the military construction and ship repairs. No more sugar or pineapple. No high technology industry. We feed off those 10-million-plus visitors who came here last year before the virus hit.

We could easily shut down the promotion efforts of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, but we’d put about 230,000 tourism-oriented workers out of jobs permanently because there’s no where else for them to work with their limited skills.

If you put your eggs in a basket and the basket bottom falls out …

Funny. When I go to other sunny island places such as Fiji or Borneo and tell them about our 10 million visitors they are envious and wish they could get some of that. All they can see is the money. Us, too, until lately. Now you see things like a Facebook site called Redesign Hawaii Tourism. But (and it’s a big one) while Kailua residents may resent all the tourist and their cars jammed beachside, they also depend on those busloads of Japanese visitors to nourish their A&B high-lease-rent shops downtown.

I got a Facebook posting by a thoughtful kamaaina friend: “How we wish that the monopoly of tourism could make room for other ways to live in this state. Too bad their success and ability to control the narrative has over shadowed the quality of life in the Hawaiian Islands. The absence of tourists and the events that disturb certain neighborhoods on a weekly basis is such a treat.” 

Maya Bay had 5,000 visitors a day until the Thai government imposed limits.

This discussion leads me to a paper issued a month ago by scholars Paul Brewbaker, Frank Haas and James Mak for the Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawaii.

Here’s a key sentence from that paper: “The first rule in tourism development is that the well-being of destination residents must come first.”

Then: “Unfortunately, the majority of Hawaii residents now think that tourism in Hawaii is being run for tourists at the expense of local residents.”

The research paper reports that “in 2019, only 41 percent of the respondents agreed that ‘tourism has been mostly positive for you and your family,’ down from 60 percent in 1988. These negative resident perceptions should be of great concern to the Hawaii Tourism Authority and policymakers.”

But there’s a bug in HTA’s soup. It’s a government agency with out a single government person on its board. So the researchers concluded that “From early on there was concern that with majority membership comprising of people from tourism, when push comes to shove the broader interests of the community will be sacrificed to the narrower interests of the various factions in the visitor industry.”

There is a theory in government studies called “regulatory capture.” It basically says that regulatory agencies may come to be dominated by the industry they are charged with regulating and do not necessarily serve the public interest.

That appears to many of us to be exactly what happened with HTA. Its members with their business orientation wanted more and more tourism and ignored the damage that was being done and the ill-will that was being bred.

The UH research group writes that “Hawaii received nearly 4 million more tourists in 2019 than in 1989, but with less total (real) visitor spending. In sum, tourism’s benefits to Hawaii were falling while the costs/ problems imposed by tourism on the local community were rising.”

And it’s not just the UH group’s assessment. HTA’s own Resident Sentiment Survey found that most Hawaii residents are aware of HTA’s role in marketing and promoting Hawaii tourism but believe that HTA is less effective in “communicating with and listening to Hawaii residents concerning tourism-related issues and concerns.”

Two years ago, Chris Tatum became HTA’s new president and announced his intention to chart a new course that aims to achieve greater balance between tourism marketing and an emphasis on higher spending but lower impact visitors, and to focus more on community enrichment and preservation of Hawaiian culture and natural resources.

We’re not there yet and we’re in a total vacuum right now with COVID-19.

When we restart, will the tourists that HTA plans to encourage nourish us, or continue to devour our resources?


The Yeas And Nays Of Online Schooling

In the news this week: the UH,  Chaminade and financially-strapped HPU will be re-starting some in-classroom courses this coming semester. There is certainly some risk in that at this point in the pandemic, but most students are young and healthy and probably can survive a minor COVID infection. The professors? Not so young!

There long have been arguments pro and con about online college education (diploma mills) and the effectiveness of homeschooling.

Now we also have online secondary school classes because of the SARS-CoV2 virus attack. And we’ll still have plenty at the UH and the others, too.

Are any of those as good as the more traditional classroom education?

UH Manoa Prof. Noel Kent of the Ethnic Studies Department wrote a letter-to-the-editor of the Star-Advertiser arguing that he finds online education to be “a very poor substitute” for the face-to-face kind. He’s been teaching that way because the campus has been closed.

Kent says “class discussions and team presentations of projects students have done together build skills they can take with them into the workplace, and as citizens.”

I tend to agree and for those and other reasons have never been a fan of homeschooling. It buries social and team skills and young people need those.

How about college? I’ve done both. My undergraduate work was at two traditional campuses. My law degree was done remotely in Europe under the administration and testing by my base’s Staff Judge Advocate’s office. “Remote” back then meant by mail with the law faculty of LaSalle University.

My second year of undergraduate on-campus study, the dean of students chastised me for arguing too much with my World History professor. But critical discussion is what college should be about. My later remote classes obviously did not offer that. I regret missing out — especially when the topic was arguable law.

But generally, the reviews of today’s online college courses seem to be favorable and the numbers certainly bear out the popularity.

The Journal of Public Affairs Education compared the effectiveness of online learning with in-classroom learning and found that while online education tends to have less sense of instructor control, group dynamics are more favorable.

A 2018 study by Learning House, Inc., showed 85% of students who had previously enrolled in both face-to-face and online courses felt their online experience was either the same or better than the classroom course.  That included 37% who felt it was a superior experience.

The average pass rate for remote learners at law schools taking California’s First Year Student Law Exam was more than twice that of traditional law schools in the state — 34.8% versus 17.1%. Purdue University’s Concord Law School, the first fully online law school in the country, had a first time pass rate of 45%.

Rasmussen College, which has 23 traditional campuses plus online classes, says both online and traditional education have their perks. One option that is increasing in popularity is called “blended learning.”

That has a curriculum designed to offer both in-person learning and online coursework. For example, instructors may require only meeting once weekly for lectures, while assigning projects or other activities for students to complete online on their own time. This allows students to receive some of the positives from face-to-face social learning while still allowing for scheduling flexibility.

Whatever you think, online learning is with us and helps many people hold down jobs while getting a college degree.

I’d be very interested in comments from Hawaii educators.

And about homeschooling. There’s an interesting new paper by Harvard public law professor Elizabeth Bartholet, who says homeschool parents “want to isolate their children from ideas and values central to our democracy, determined to keep their children from exposure to views that might enable autonomous choice about their future lives.” She claims many promote racial segregation and female subservience and question science. Abusive parents can keep their children at home free from the risk that teachers will report them to child protection services.

I’d be interested in comments from homeschooling parents on that one, too.

Isn’t The Law Supposed To Be Balanced?

During the Obama years, there were some changes made to Title IX, the statute that was enacted to make sure there was equality of treatment in our public schools for females and males.

One of the tweaks to the statute let colleges set up a version of tribunals that would handle sex assault allegations. They gave great weight to the accuser, who had frequently been brushed off in the past, and that resulted in many of the sex assault lawsuits that we see today.

But there has long been some worry that those tribunals, or investigative units, tended to believe there was a prima facie case against the accused unless he or she could establish his or her innocence. The #MeToo movement embedded that tendency even further in college quasi-judicial proceedings.

It is factual that the accused could find himself or herself under an assumption of guilt and being denied rights that are enshrined in law to examine all the evidence against them and confront and question the accuser.

Now, the Trump administration through Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is changing the rules via executive order. DeVos says “This new regulation requires schools to act in meaningful ways to support survivors of sexual misconduct without sacrificing important safeguards to ensure a fair and transparent process. We can and must continue to fight sexual misconduct in our nation’s schools, and this rule makes certain that fight continues.”

Today’s edict from Trump  requires schools to produce evidence and allow for the cross-examination of students who say they were assaulted.

But Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden says it’s an effort by the Trump administration to shame and silence survivors of sexual assault.

It pains me to take Trump’s side over Biden’s, but my old-time law training tells me Trump is right. It may be painful for an assaulted college young woman to have to confront the man she’s accused, but that’s exactly what she’d have to do in a criminal court. Why should it be any different in “a college court”?

Biden says “I always have been throughout my career — on the side of survivors, who deserve to have their voices heard, their claims taken seriously and investigated, and their rights upheld.”
Yes, they should have their voices heard and be taken seriously and have their rights upheld. Then the accused should have access to all the evidence and an opportunity to confront and question the accuser.

It might be painful for the accuser, but if it’s good enough for our country’s  criminal law system it should be required in quasi-judicial tribunals as well.

It’s good law, fair to both sides and I’d appreciate Biden more if he said that and didn’t feel it’s an opportunity to corral liberal female votes.

Another Honolulu Train Issue?

Okay, so we’ve worried ourselves out about the staggering cost of the Honolulu transit train, the visual blight of the raised rail line, the probable ridership numbers and the exactly-unknown cost of the 4 a.m. to midnight operation of the 20 four-car trains.

Now, looking at some other cities’ experiences, maybe we should start worrying about the homeless making homes in the employee-less cars.

The photos I’ve included with this story are from New York City, where the Daily News documented the problem we’d better start thinking about.

Yes, our trains will have closed-circuit TV cameras and call buttons  for emergencies. But no transit police — no police, period.

New York City recently had to temporarily close 10 of its mass transit stations to clean them up because of a flood of homeless. The Daily News reported that “On any given day in any given corner of the city’s sprawling subway, train cars are filled with people who have nowhere else to go or choose the subways over the shelter system.”

Sure, we can have police meet a car at a station and kick off the homeless squatters. But the homeless are canny. One subway liver in NYC told the newspaper “It’s hell out here. They tried to kick me off but I got different ways to get back on. I agree with them, I get off, get out, and I get on the next train.”

Our trains will not even have a driver. The only roving attendants will be at the stations, not on board.

Probably no problem with the first increment to open (maybe) late this year from Kapolei to Aloha Stadium. But the final segment in 2025 through town to Ala Moana Center — that’s where we’re likely to encounter the homeless.

Am I being too much of a worrywart?

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