Charting a New Course for Tourism in Hawaii

Anyone wondering if Native Hawaiians care about tourism these days might have had a good idea this week at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel, where the nonprofit Council for the Advancement of Native Hawaiians holds its annual congress until Friday.

A panel titled “Culture, Tourism and Indigenous Communities” generated so much interest that just as the discussion was about to begin, a line of over a hundred people emerged from the crowded meeting room. The crowd was so big that the organizers had to move the conference to a huge ballroom.

Kuhio Lewis, the council’s chief executive, watched as the crowd entered the largest hall.

“When was the last time that so many Hawaiians were interested in tourism? said Lewis. “It looks like the whole convention decided to come to this one.”

People wishing to attend a panel discussion on “native culture, tourism and communities” poured in from a small meeting room at the Sheraton Waikiki Hoyel on Wednesday during the Council on Native Hawaiian Advancement convention. Organizers moved the discussion to a ballroom to accommodate everyone. Stewart Yerton/Civil Beat/2022

John DeFries, panelist and president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said the crowd size showed something important.

“It’s the best indication that the community is engaged,” said DeFries, whose organization recently awarded the council a two-year tourism marketing contract worth $35 million in public funds over two years. .

As the council prepares to take over Hawaii’s flagship contract promoting the state to mainland travelers – the latest hurdle is a protest from a competing bidder challenging the award – it is very likely that a high level of commitment will continue. And the board’s convention program has been instrumental in sustaining that commitment.

The culture and tourism conference featured not only DeFries, but also Doug Chang, general manager of Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach; former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who now leads the Hawaiian Lodging and Tourism Association; and Taimalelagi Minnie Patosina Tuia, Director of the American Samoa Visitors Bureau.

Other panels included discussions on tourism as an economic driver and redefining the Native Hawaiian community’s relationship with the visitor industry.

Additionally, a plenary session on Thursday brought together the island’s four mayors – Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi, Maui Mayor Mike Victorino, Hawaii Island Mayor Mitch Roth and Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami. – discussing ‘regenerative tourism’ and the changes they would like to see in tourism on their islands over the next decade.

Ritz-Carlton GM calls the changes a “revolution”

Still, Wednesday’s panel was important because it was a rare opportunity to hear from leaders like Chang, who heads the Council for Native Hawaiian Transition Team as the organization prepares to take over the contract.

With the contract award being challenged by the venerable Hawaii Visitor and Convention Bureau, which marketed Hawaii for more than a century until the board snatched the contract from it earlier this year, the board has been tight-lipped about its plans. until he hears from the final arbiter of the procurement challenge: the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and its chairman, Mike McCartney.

Although Chang did not discuss specifics of the contract or the council’s plans, he kicked off Wednesday’s culture speech by calling the changes a “revolution” and urging those gathered to seize the opportunity and stay. committed.

“It’s a rallying cry,” Chang said. “We must take up this torch.”

Often in the past, Chang said, tourism has shaped Hawaiian culture.

“We’re at a point where that has to change, and culture has to shape tourism,” Chang said.

After Chang, Hannemann was more specific. He called for mandatory training and certification in Hawaiian culture for everyone working in the hospitality industry.

“Anyone working in tourism must complete a program to be certified in Hawaiian culture,” he said. “What’s wrong with being certified? What’s wrong with taking refresher courses? »

Convention of the Council for the Advancement of Native Hawaiians
Hawaii mayors – from left, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi, Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami, Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth and Maui Mayor Mike Victorino – discussed their visions for tourism in 2030. Stewart Yerton/Civil Beat/2022

A major challenge is building consensus around these big ideas, said Pauline Sheldon, professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii’s School of Travel Industry Management, who moderated Thursday’s discussion with the mayors.

Doing so will first require institutionalizing an ongoing process where various parties can develop solutions.

“We won’t have the answers tomorrow,” she said in an interview. “But we have to agree that we’re going to think together and ask the big questions, and be uncomfortable.”

Sheldon’s panel discussion ostensibly focused on ‘regenerative tourism’, the new buzzword that has recently supplanted ‘sustainable tourism’ in the lexicon of industry thought leaders. The idea is that regenerative tourism can produce community benefits that far outweigh the negative side effects of tourism.

What makes a tourist activity regenerative depends on the location, but frequently cited examples are tourists shopping at farmers’ markets or visiting farms. These activities support local food production and diversified agriculture and the environmental benefits that come with it.

When answering Sheldon’s questions about regenerative tourism on their islands, the mayors tended to speak in generalities or talk about specific steps they were taking to manage the negative side effects of tourism. For example, the four mayors talked about their work managing short-term vacation rentals outside resort areas.

Blangiardi, for example, pointed to Honolulu’s passage of Bill 41, which will make it harder for people to operate short-term vacation rentals outside of resort areas when the measure takes effect in October. Such rentals are already generally illegal under Honolulu’s zoning laws, although vacation rental operators can circumvent the ban by renting a particular unit once every 30 days. Bill 41 eliminates this exception.

Sheldon brought out more ambitious visions from mayors when she asked them what they want tourism to look like on their island in 2030.

Blangiardi said he wants tourists to appreciate that they come to a special place and treat it as such. To express the idea, he mentioned an old advertising slogan used to market Hawaii: “Come for the beauty, but stay for the people.”

Roth said he would like to see regular “cooling periods” for high-traffic and environmentally sensitive areas, which he says can allow ecosystems to regenerate.

Kawakami conjured up a folkloric 30-year-old vision of taking his future grandchildren to surf his favorite spots — where, unlike now, he could find parking. Shuttle buses would transport tourists, who would be met at the beach by a helpful “kuleana crew” who would teach visitors what to do.

“Instead of viewing visitors as takers, we would have a different mindset,” he said.

About Jermaine Chase

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