POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 9, 2010
Are we really going to make like we're surprised about the San Diego teachers catching flak for booking a work conference in Waikiki?
As it turned out, despite public criticism and a decision to put the trip on hold, the group of seven educators is coming anyway because -- classic! -- the airplane tickets were already paid for and are nonrefundable.
It was hard enough selling this kind of business trip back before the sky fell, but with unemployment at 13 percent in California and teachers and other public workers seeing their jobs vanish or their pay cut, you'd have to have some sort of professional death wish to sign the papers to approve a conference to anywhere but the Bakersfield Holiday Inn. This one is three days at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, total cost $11,200.
We can't pretend we're shocked a business trip to Hawaii might be perceived as a vacation in disguise when we've helped perpetuate that stereotype of the islands. All those years of "just hang loose, you're on Hawaiian time, have another drink" built quite an enduring reputation.
What is disheartening is despite the contemporary efforts to re-brand Hawaii as a place to do serious business (just keep repeating, "APEC's coming in 2011!!"), the umbrella drink and lazy seaside image endures. Not only that, everyone knows it's not a cheap trip. Those umbrella drinks are pricey, and there's no Motel 6 on the beach.
A work conference in Hawaii has all the gravitas (to borrow a word from Karl Rove) of a business trip to Las Vegas. You know things are really bad when the folks in San Diego, a place that knows all about sun, surf and the beach culture, are rolling their eyes over the idea of a teachers conference in Hawaii.
"I know I always learn better when I'm on a tropical island surrounded by warm sunny weather, crystal blue water, scantily dressed beachgoers and the lure of mai tais under a shady palm tree," one person snarked in the San Diego Union-Tribune online comments.
The San Diego teachers group had considered attending a similar conference that was to be held in Ohio before deciding on Hawaii. The Ohio trip would have cost more and would have included the risk of travel delays due to weather, but would have probably been perceived by their local taxpayers and parents as less extravagant than Waikiki. Hawaii is seen as an exotic luxury, which works to our advantage in good times and kicks us in the butt when the economy stinks. Count on President Obama catching heat for spending yet another Christmas on the beach in Kailua.
Just whatever happens, know those San Diego teachers are going to be in town the first week of December along with other educators from around the world. So nobody buy them drinks, OK? Keep it serious.