Monday, November 30, 2015         


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Isles get 'A-plus' for aloha spirit and efficiency

By Dan Nakaso


Hawaii did so well in hosting last week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that some APEC leaders might return to the Hawai'i Convention Center for their own meetings -- and even told President Barack Obama that Honolulu was a better location than Cannes, France, which hosted the G20 summit earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador for APEC Kurt Tong said Monday.

Compared with other cities that have hosted APEC or similar international economic meetings, "Hawaii gets an A-plus," Tong told the Star-Advertiser.

"If Hawaii's willing, Hawaii definitely has proven it's ready for the big time, ready for the big leagues," Tong said. "This is a shared home run for Hawaii and for the United States at large."

Protesters remained civil. There was plenty of Internet bandwidth for delegates to do their work. And Hawaii's famous aloha spirit showed through despite the absence of lei and aloha shirts for APEC's suit-and-tie, businesslike atmosphere, Tong said.

"I received zero complaints but, seriously, a lot of compliments," Tong said. "Zero complaints is unusual. Folks from Asia-Pacific are polite, but if they have a problem and they're not happy, they'll let you know. The compliments were for transportation, the hotels, the meeting sites and the agenda. People especially liked the convention center. Several delegations said, 'We should do more meetings in Hawaii.'"

Despite intense security to guard the leaders and representatives from 21 APEC countries -- and subsequent traffic congestion -- the delegates were able to do their work amid a backdrop of efficient service and Hawaii hospitality, Tong said.

The result was significant progress on APEC trade issues that will benefit the region and improve relations, Tong said.

"When people are relaxed, they think more clearly," Tong said. "And when they think more clearly, they're more likely to come to conclusions that result in agreements. ... It's really important that Hawaii was able to convey a sense of being an effective place to do business -- they did that. Hawaii was successful in conveying a unique sense of welcome and was successful in conveying a sense of respect for the environment."

Honolulu's APEC experience was different from that of some other host cities, especially the 2003 APEC summit held in Bangkok, said Tung Bui, a University of Hawaii business professor who is director of UH's APEC Study Center.

In Bangkok, Bui said, "schools closed, people were asked to stay home and the government declared two days of national APEC holidays so they could manage the traffic."

But the mixed results of Honolulu companies hoping for a boom in APEC-related business and sales was shared by Hanoi when it hosted APEC in 2006, Bui said.

"Some businesses (in Hanoi) took advantage of it, like hotels and the hospitality industry," he said. "But small businesses did suffer from the closing of streets for security reasons."

Tong thanked the people of Honolulu for putting up with traffic disruptions during last week's APEC meetings -- disruptions that could continue this morning with the departure of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

"Certainly it's an imposition on daily life to have all of these restrictions in place," Tong said, "but I'm hopeful that they understood it was for a good cause."

One APEC delegation told Tong that its members saw Hawaii's aloha spirit even from their motorcade.

"Traffic was stopped as their motorcade was going by, and they were expecting people to be grumpy," Tong said. "Instead, people were waiving, 'Hi, welcome to Hawaii,' and that was really sincere."

For the work of APEC dignitaries, Hawaii's "sense of welcome, the sense of aloha, really was extremely positive ... and put everyone at ease. When they're not worried about logistics and they feel comfortable because it's an attractive environment and everyone's being nice to them, it makes it all work."

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