POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, May 31, 2011
In Hawaii, May is recognized as Tourism Month, a time to remember the importance of tourism to our state and reflect upon what tourism means to our community and our livelihood.
When people talk about the benefits of tourism, there is a tendency to focus on the economic impact. And we've all heard the numbers:
» Tourism is the largest single source of private capital into Hawaii.
» Last year, visitor spending reached $11.4 billion.
» This year started out even stronger. For the first four months of 2011, visitor spending was $4.1 billion, representing the 12th consecutive month of double-digit increases in overall spending.
» Tourism accounts for more than 150,000 jobs.
» Tax revenue to the state and counties exceeded $1.1 billion.
While we are encouraged by the gains we are seeing in the economy because of tourism, it is important to remember that tourism means more than just money and numbers. Hawaii's tourism industry is not just about economic growth, it is about our people and our place, which is our greatest attraction. While the natural beauty of our islands attracts visitors here, it is the hospitable nature of our people and aloha that entices them to return.
First-time visitors to Hawaii think of aloha as just a greeting, but we know this word means so much more than "hello" or "good-bye." Aunty Pilahi Paki taught us through the"aloha spirit law" that aloha is meant to express kindness, harmony, humility, patience and especially, lokahi — our unity.
Aloha is not just a word; it is a way of life. It is inherent in our people, our place and our culture.
The HTA also strives to achieve this through the way in which we market Hawaii to the world — dedicating resources to programs that honor and perpetuate the Hawaiian culture, and protect and preserve our natural environment.
In addition, to better share the Hawaii brand to the world, the HTA reorganized to work in lokahi; all of our programs now operate under the banner of "brand management." This new approach recognizes that everything we do contributes to the visitors' experience, and enables the HTA to utilize its resources to create a better Hawaii for visitors and kamaaina alike.
This is a time for us to reflect upon the role of tourism and what it means for Hawaii. But we must always remember to look deeper than simply money and economic statistics — to remember that our community, people and our aloha spirit are gifts to the world.
And we all have a responsibility to preserve and perpetuate these gifts for our community, our visitors and our future generations.
Richard Borreca's "On Politics" column, which runs Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays, returns on Friday.