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Monday, September 22, 2014         

UNDER THE SUN


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Grumblers have a point when it comes to APEC

By Cynthia Oi

POSTED:



Oh, that Peter Carlisle. You can trust that the former city prosecutor who is now mayor would be his forthright self when remarking on public complaints about hassles anticipated because of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation sessions here.

“Even though we live in Hawaii, where the sun is shining and it’s beautiful, there are some people who grumble every day,” Carlisle told The Associated Press.

True that, but in this case, public concerns are understandable, in part because routines will be disrupted and typical traffic problems further aggravated.

Add to that the tickle of fear aroused by the no-drive, no-sail, no-swim, no-fly, no-walk, no-park, show-me-your-papers security measures and the uneasy feeling that something bad could happen because of the presence of lots of really important people.

What makes embracing APEC more difficult, however, is the intangible nature of the benefits the event is expected to bring.

The official line is that APEC inconveniences will be offset by short- and long-term rewards, most immediate among them the estimated $120 million the 20,000 conference-related travelers will “pump” into the island economy.

Hotels, retailers, restaurants and other businesses that make money off tourists certainly will profit, and though such gains are supposed to trickle down to the regular people, they will be indistinguishable in the usual paychecks.

The $137 million in government and private funds spent on tidying up Nimitz Highway, a few segments of Waikiki and other locales aren’t exclusively for the APEC types. Palm trees, grass and new shrubs along the drive to the airport will look lovely for local people as well. Still, residents can’t be blamed for feeling a bit like chopped liver because remodeling was put on the agenda or fast-tracked for APEC.

The primary APEC goal, the state’s political and economic big boys say, is to present Hawaii as a serious place to do business; in Carlisle’s words the “Geneva of the Pacific.”

This objective has eluded the islands for as long as it has been a state, largely because the natural beauty of Hawaii has been its overwhelming appeal and because of the unshakeable notion that a pretty place cannot be a professional, pragmatic one.

The Asia-Pacific crossroads concept has become an even harder sell as virtual conferencing, Internet links and other technologies eclipse strategic geography.

Except for volunteers, not many regular people will get to experience APEC. Few meetings and events are open to the public, and those that are require fees in the hundreds and thousands of dollars.

Above all, security rules will separate people and APEC participants.

No doubt APEC participants will be exposed to island customs, lifestyles and traditions, but in small, prepackaged, controlled snippets. Spontaneous interaction will likely be minimal.

Too bad. The biggest selling point for Hawaii remains its welcoming culture and its inhabitants. For sure, there are those who complain every day, but for every one of them, there are people who share their appreciation of Hawaii every day.

———

Cynthia Oi can be reached at coi@staradvertiser.com.






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