HomeNative HawaiianDoes Hawai'i's tourism hold the key to economic recovery?

Does Hawai’i’s tourism hold the key to economic recovery?

Since the start of the pandemic, Hawai’i has faced a decrease in tourism that heavily impacted the economy. However, there is hope for a turnaround.

In support of Hawai’i’s economic recovery, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded a $600,000 grant to aid in the development of new visitor amenities and attractions, according to a press release by the EDA.

The project will also be matched with $180,000 in state funds.

According to the release, the project will improve visitors’ experiences while also supporting recovering tourism. It is also intended to ensure necessary staffing for outdoor recreational sites of Native Hawaiian significance.

Part of the grant will also go toward maintaining a trail steward program at Hawai‘i Island’s Pololu, Governor David Ige said in the press release.

“Outdoor recreation areas are precious spaces enjoyed in every community across our state by residents and visitors alike,” Governor Ige stated.

In addition to the grant, the return of Japanese visitors may also aid in economic recovery. Starting Oct. 11, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that Japan will lift its daily arrival cap and allow visa-free travel, according to the Honolulu Civil Beat.

Executive Director of University of Hawai’i Economic Research Organization (UHERO) Dr. Carl Bonham told the Honolulu Civil Beat that a boost from Hawai’i’s international market is key.

“If we get back to 50% of pre-pandemic levels, businesses are definitely going to feel the difference,” Dr. Bonham said to the Honolulu Civil Beat. “You’re going to see wedding business pick up and some retailers who were really hurt, as well as food and beverage, begin to see increased traffic.”

While it may help the economy, there are also growing discussions on the negative impacts of increased tourism.

Kyle Kajihiro, an activist and lecturer at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, and his colleague Terrilee Kekoʻolani studied the effects of colonization, militarization and overdevelopment of Hawai’i. According to the New York Times, they learned that tourism as an industry had some of the most damaging effects on Oahu, including overcrowding and a higher cost of living and goods.

“There historically hasn’t been enough consideration for how tourism and tourists can contribute to making life sustainable and really livable for the locals who serve them here,” said Bryant de Venecia, communications organizer for the resort workers’ union Unite Here Local 5.

In an attempt to merge both sides, organizations like Pa’i Foundation focus on both marketing to visitors and supporting local artists and cultural practitioners.

Pa’i Foundation Director Vicky Holt Takamine explained to KHON2 the importance of supporting and growing the current industry.

“You need to infuse dollars into the cultural practices and to make sure that the artists are thriving, healthy and have jobs,” Takamine said to KHON2. “There’s a balance that the tourism industry has to do — both hotels and airlines and Hawaii Tourism Authority. They have to infuse and make sure they support the cultural practitioners that they market.”

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