Hawaiians know that tourism itself is good for development, according to the latest survey, but they also want solutions and action. Acting quickly is crucial.
Lebawit Lily Girma, Skift
More than 70% of respondents in Hawaii’s popular island destinations said tourism was worth the hassle associated with the industry, according to a new publication Hawaii Resident Sentiment Survey for Spring 2021managed by Omnitrak for the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Respondents’ resounding “yes” was in response to a question preceded by key data on the value of tourism in Hawaii – that in 2019 visitors spent nearly $18 billion in Hawaii, which generated $2 billion in dollars in tax revenue to support local schools. , hospitals and infrastructure.
Given these facts, an overwhelming majority of respondents said tourism was worth the trouble it caused, with the highest percentage of Oahu at 78%. The high “yes” rate was also evenly distributed across island demographics.
“While residents are concerned about the negative impacts of tourism, they also continue to support the industry,” said Chris Kam, president and chief operating officer of Omnitrak Group.
This recognition of the industry’s value comes six months after the results of the latest Resident Sentiment Survey, in which two-thirds of Hawaiian residents said they do not want tourists to return to the islands.
It also comes after months without tourism dollars and as tourism is returning to Hawaii faster than tourism officials expected. Thanks to vaccinations, the archipelago is seeing record figures return, even if it is for the moment another type of largely domestic tourism.
Kam said tourism in Hawaii has been picking up like a moving train since the Great Recession and it’s hard to make adjustments to that “moving train.”
The main difficulty, as the latest survey results also show, is to achieve consensus on whether more is being done to manage tourism and the problems associated with it.
“Separately, we asked about the state’s tourism management efforts, which take into account quality of life issues and balance the visitor industry with the needs and considerations of residents. It got a much more mixed response,” Kam said.
Although mixed, it’s actually a majority of at least 50% of respondents who said they disagreed or very little agreed that more efforts are being made to balance economic benefits of tourism and the quality of life of residents, reaching 62% in Maui. Overall, only 11-13% of respondents felt that more was being done.
Kam said that in terms of ways to better manage tourism, residents cited three main strategies in the following order of importance, according to the survey results: 1) regenerative tourism, or teaching visitors to caring for islands and communities; 2) accommodation – in particular the elimination of illegal vacation rentals, with more than 50% in favor of the latter, and 3) charging fees for access to natural attractions.
“The survey results show that integrating managed tourism efforts with economic impact and quality of life initiatives is key to improving resident sentiment,” Kam said. “It’s no longer just about economics and tourism tax revenue, as residents expect the industry to benefit their quality of life and to grow in a responsible and sustainable way.”
Experts said now is a critical time for Hawaii to move beyond the planning stage to find and implement solutions. Veteran Hawaiian tourism marketing expert Frank Haas reiterated this recently, noting that Hawaii could look to other destinations as examples and the inspiration to create its own model of tourism management solutions, but that the destination now needs to take tourism management seriously.
Kam agreed that Covid could be the best opportunity for Hawaii “to get ahead of the problems, seize the opportunity to make adjustments, to rethink tourism and destination management.”
“In the longer term, we are focusing on the social and cultural sustainability of tourism. We believe that economic sustainability includes the ability of our keiki (children) to live and work here, to care for their elders, and to raise future generations in Hawai’i that they helped build,” Kam said.
“This is the overriding goal of every destination with a vibrant community, because the core belief of Hawaiian hospitality is: A happy place to live is a happy place to visit.”
A mutual respect for values is central to this principle, which is why Kam said the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s 2021-2023 strategy of developing destination-specific management action plans and campaign and the Malama Hawaii regenerative tourism program were on track.
“It’s a thoughtful, forward-thinking approach to destination management that always considers economics…but not at the expense of quality of life.”