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Hawaii officials eye a new approach to tourism

Published: Jul. 2, 2018 at 12:50 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 2, 2018 at 1:33 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Four local experts on tourism are suggesting it's time for complete rethink of how Hawaii manages its top industry — and officials are listening.

Consulting economist Paul Brewbaker and tourism consultants Frank Haas, John Knox and James Mak, all well known in the Hawaii business community for their expertise on the subject, want the state to work for well-managed tourism, not merely market the destination.

George Szigeti, outgoing CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, told Hawaii News Now he agrees.

"The new person coming in will have to really look in a new direction to re-pivot this and how we manage the destination," he told Sunrise Monday.

The four experts made their points to the Hawaii Economics Association.

Then, last Thursday, they found themselves invited to give the same presentation to Gov. David Ige.

Tourism numbers look superficially good: Ever more visitors paying ever higher room rates.

But the four say the cash flow isn't as good when you account for inflation, and it comes at the cost of pressure on the environment and taxing the patience of residents.

In 1955, the average stay was 25 days, Paul Brewbaker says. Now, "it's eight or nine days if we're lucky."

Put another way, Hawaii depends on a larger number of people to produce a given number of vacation days.

That's why Hanauma Bay has to be closed once a week, and park rangers recently created a reservations list to see the sunrise from Haleakala.

Tourism benefits the state by providing tens of thousands of tourism jobs, many of them union jobs with good wages and benefits. But constrained inventory and high room rates have driven many visitors to alternative lodgings that don't support those jobs.

Despite record tourism numbers, "it's been almost 30 years since tourism actually had a record year, by constant dollar tourism receipts," Brewbaker said. "Tourism today is the same economic size as it was in 1989."

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