Saying Aloha With 12 Tourism Tips

The writer with Billy V (left) and Jerry Gibson of Hilton Hotels at the Visitor Industry Charity Walk. Photo courtesy HTLA

This will be my last “Tourism Matters” column for MidWeek as I step down as the head of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association to pursue a public service endeavor to serve you in Washington, D.C. I’ve enjoyed this opportunity to share my thoughts on travel and tourism, and am grateful for your interest in Hawaii’s most important industry. I’ll leave you with what I call my “Top 12 for Tourism,” goals and initiatives I believe are vital to ensuring the continued vitality of the visitor industry.

Do What We Do Best.

By now, we’ve probably spent hundreds of millions of tax dollars on efforts to diversify our economy. Diversification is important, but it should not be at the expense of our core competence of tourism. Tourism is what we do best. Our industry is very sophisticated and capable of successfully competing against destinations across the globe. What we should seek is greater economic synergy by supporting industries such as sports, film production, agriculture and cuisine, culture and arts, education and training, and the environment to complement tourism, and vice versa.

Expand Lift Capacity.

Lift capacity means airline seats. We can do all the marketing in the world to promote Hawaii, but without lift capacity to attract visitors, all our efforts will be for naught. We must continue to make it attractive for airlines to do business in Hawaii, and encourage more carriers to establish direct service between the islands and cities overseas. And let’s make sure our airports are prepared to welcome our visitors.

Develop A 21st Century Work Force. We must train today the workers who’ll fill the ranks of our businesses tomorrow. We need to provide the support and resources for the tourism academies in our public schools, the University of Hawaii’s School of Travel Industry Management, our community colleges, visitor industry internships, and other programs that are educating and training our future workers.

Develop Tourism That’s Sustainable. Higher numbers of arrivals alone will not sustain our visitor industry. Preserving the aloha spirit of our people, celebrating our native Hawaiian heritage and cultural diversity, protecting Hawaii’s natural beauty, and balancing these with tourism are essential to lessening the industry’s impact on the environment and local culture. The result will be to maintain the island lifestyle and quality of life for our residents, while also creating an enjoyable experience for our visitors.

Be Careful With The Hotel Room Tax.A growing share of the hotel room tax revenue – originally created for tourism marketing, the convention center and the county governments – is now being diverted to the state’s general fund to help balance the budget. This increase is affecting Hawaii’s competitiveness in the travel market. But competing leisure destinations not only have lower rates, but lower costs of doing business. The result is to add to the challenges facing Hawaii’s visitor industry in competing in a tough global marketplace.

Make Public Safety A Priority. Nothing can harm the visitor industry quicker than reports of rising crime. One of my priorities as mayor was to direct resources to our first-responders: the police, firefighters, emergency medical services and emergency management. Honolulu is one of the safest big cities in America, which I can tell you firsthand was a major criterion in us landing the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Moreover, our strong visitor numbers validate this policy.

Make The Most Of APEC. Last November’s APEC summit demonstrated Hawaii’s expertise in hosting major events. But APEC shouldn’t have been a oneand-done deal. We need to form a permanent public-private host committee, led by government and with business involvement, to pursue similar events. We’re a prime location for business gatherings, a “Geneva of the Pacific” to quote the late Bud Smyser, but we need to follow up on what we achieved with APEC.

Maintain Our Infrastructure. Another of the themes of my work as mayor was maintaining our infrastructure as fundamental to our quality of life and vital to a strong visitor industry. Well-maintained roads, water and sewage systems, public transportation, parks and beaches, and public facilities all contribute to an enjoyable lifestyle for residents and a memorable experience for visitors. The longer we delay infrastructure work, the more we’ll pay.

Build Ties Between The Tourism And Business Communities. During my term as head of the HLTA, we established a stronger dialogue between those who work on Bishop Street and Kalakaua Avenue, and we’ve got to continue to build on these ties. Former First Hawaiian Bank chief Don Horner best summed up the significance of this relationship when he addressed our HLTA members, saying, “Tourism represents 40 percent of our jobs statewide, directly or indirectly. We eat out of the same rice bowl. If tourism is healthy, the state will be healthy.”

The Chinese Are Coming! The Chinese Are Coming! Yes, they are. We just heard that Taiwanese travelers will be granted visa waivers. With a streamlined visa approval process and visa waivers, we can now turn our attention to marketing in the world’s most populous country. We know they’re coming, and we have time to prepare through training, new services and improved attractions so they’ll tell other Chinese good things about their time in the Islands.

Keep The NFL Pro Bowl. The state negotiated an agreement to have the National Football League’s Pro Bowl return next year. That isn’t enough. The event attracts 20,000 visitors to the Islands, and we need to develop a game plan now to keep it here for many more years. I’ve suggested hosting a preseason game when the Pro Bowl isn’t being played here, scheduling more activities on the Neighbor Islands and adding to the festivities, as we did with Pro Bowl Week in Waikiki. But let’s not wait until the 11th hour to craft a plan.

Capitalize On Brand USA. Renowned chef and restaurateur Roy Yamaguchi is on the board of Brand USA, the federal govern-ment’s advisory board on international tourism marketing and a program I championed in Congress when I served with the U.S. Conference of Mayors. That means Hawaii has an influential voice to help us capitalize on the country’s first attempt to market tourism overseas. Given Hawaii’s excellent track record in the Japanese and Korean markets, we can’t help but benefit from this major initiative.

These efforts and others should help us ensure that the best years of No. 1 industry are ahead of us.

MUFI’S VISITOR HEROES

Position: Laundry Attendant
Location: Saint Regis Princeville Resort

Laundry attendant Catalina “Cathy” Llego stands out even among a top-notch staff at the Saint Regis Princeville Resort. Always polite and helpful, Cathy takes great pride in her duties and serves as the unofficial trainer for new employees. Even during the busiest times, she finds the time to share her knowledge and experience with newcomers and make them feel welcome. She has taught herself all the job functions in the laundry department, including washman, valet attendant, laundry attendant and room attendant, giving her the ability to step in to help others whenever necessary.

A very hard worker, Cathy once worked a 13-hour shift just to make sure a guest’s laundry was done by the following morning. She also builds morale, bringing homemade treats for her co-workers, recognizing birthdays and special occasions, or just offering a sympathetic ear.

Catalina Llego joins the resort’s highway cleanups, participates in the Visitor Industry Charity Walk, and collects and donates money to such charities as Kaua’i United Way, Kaua’i Food Bank, Japan Tsunami Relief and Starwood Associate Relief Fund.

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