As a record number of visitors stream into Hawaii, state officials want residents to know: Tourism is your friend.
The agency that promotes travel to Hawaii is starting an online video campaign to remind locals about the benefits of the state’s biggest employer.
The first installment features Honolulu chef Mark Noguchi talking about his brother-in-law’s job at a Waikiki restaurant and his uncle’s work building resorts. He closes the 30-second video saying: “Take care of tourism. It’s a family business.”
The campaign is aimed at showing tourism helps a broad cross-section of the state, not just those who work in hotels or at other jobs directly in the industry, said Leslie Dance, the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s vice president for marketing and product development. People sometimes forget how important tourism is and start lamenting there are too many people around, particularly when business is good, she said.
“It’s just a tendency for people to start complaining,” Dance said. “And so the thing is, let’s remind everybody again.”
But not everyone in Hawaii is on board.
Critics say the industry offers poorly paid jobs and exploits Hawaiian culture. But many complaints are about increased traffic and congestion.
The campaign comes as the state tries to maintain the momentum that brought a record 8.6 million travelers to Hawaii last year, the fourth-straight year of record-breaking visitor arrivals. Industry officials attribute the growth to an increase in flights and Hawaii’s enduring popularity with global travelers.
Online review sites like Yelp are directing tourists to restaurants, hikes and beaches in residential areas where travelers rarely ventured decades ago. Websites like Airbnb also allow more visitors to spend the night in neighborhoods instead of Waikiki hotels, even when most Oahu vacation rentals are illegal under county law.
Rena Risso, a 30-year-old who was born and raised in Kailua, understands the positive aspects of tourism, but she believes they’re outweighed by the negatives.
“I think, as far as the local’s point of view, it’s humbug,” she said after an early morning walk. “I can’t even take my kids to the beach on a weekend because it’s so crazy.”
The tourism agency should do more than promote “uncritical support for the growth of tourism,” said Jonathan Osorio, a professor of Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. It should be required to consider the long-range effects of continued growth on Hawaii’s resources and society, he said.
“The admonishment that we should take care of tourism because it’s a family business is a slick seduction that wants to avert the public’s attention from the industry’s abuses,” Osorio said in an email.
Dance called the campaign an inexpensive, grass-roots way to have a conversation. The videos cost $18,000 each and are posted on the tourism authority’s YouTube channel.
The second clip shows Renee Kimura of Kimura Lauhala Shop discussing how tourists support the Big Island store her great-grandfather founded over a century ago. The next video will be filmed on Kauai.
People should be reminded of tourism’s benefits so they’ll treat visitors well and encourage them to come back, said Henry Maumalanga, a hotel security guard who lives in Honolulu.
“A lot of tourists come here just because of the aloha spirit and all of that. They hear about all that kind of stuff,” he said. “And we got to show it.”
For Amanda Corby Noguchi, an event planner who appears in the first video alongside her husband, tourism is a way to teach people about Hawaii. Her husband, for example, has taken visiting friends and other travelers to fishponds and taro patches in Heeia to show them how organizations are reviving traditional forms of Hawaiian agriculture. Taro is a starchy vegetable used to make a traditional dish called poi.
“It’s an opportunity to educate people about what real Hawaii is, and what matters,” she said.