Growing and expanding tourism’s reach
Keeping the main pillar of Hawaii’s economy standing
HONOLULU, Hawaii (eTN) - Tourism has long been and continues to be the main pillar of Hawaii’s economy. Approximately 25 percent of the Aloha State’s economy and jobs is in tourism, and it is the top single industry for the state.
When asked by eTN about the Hawaii Tourism Association’s (HiTA) comments to urge Hawaii to start networking on a global stage, and to not just keep thinking “business as usual” when it comes to tourism, and to build new alliances, relations, and networks, former US Representative for Hawaii, Ed Case, who is running to represent Hawaii again, as a US Senator in Washington DC, agreed with HiTA, saying: “I don't disagree with anything you said. My agenda focuses on China, because that's an immediate potential market of significant magnitude where at least some effort has already been expanded on easing visa restrictions. I certainly agree that we need to focus more globally and look for new and potentially better tourism opportunities wherever we can."
One of Ed Case’s top action items is to strengthen what Hawaii does best. Case said: “We do tourism best, the best in the world. But we cannot depend on yesterday and today to ensure Hawai'i tourism remains strong tomorrow. We cannot take Hawaii tourism for granted; we face increasing competition both nationally and around the world.”
Hawaii needs to assure international stability, especially with the Asia-Pacific region, in order to keep tourism strong and to grow as well. Today, that means that the top priority must be Chinese tourism. There has never been such an opportunity to strengthen tourism since the opening of Japanese tourism decades ago, and we simply cannot miss this golden opportunity. Hawaii should pursue open skies agreements with Asia-Pacific countries, especially China, to facilitate expanded direct flights to and from Hawaii, and should fully implement a US-China Approved Destination Status agreement to facilitate wholesale group travel.
Another area Hawaii tourism needs to focus on is what Mr. Case calls the “Big E” – Ease of travel in obtaining permission to visit (visas), getting here and back (flights), and entering (immigration and customs). The US federal government has a direct role in strengthening tourism, especially in foreign relations and the Big E, and a supporting role in providing fair and stable economic and tax policies. President Obama has solidified this with his recent introduction of a new tourism policy.
Hawaii must pursue expansion of its visa waiver program especially to non-participating Asia-Pacific countries. Visa waiver status needs to be expedited for visitors from Taiwan and China, and the number and availability of consular officers needs to be expanded to aid in the expediting of visa issuance, especially in China.
Within the tourism industry itself, Hawaii needs to continually diversify visitors’ options and experiences, from Waikiki to the Neighbor Islands, from traditional to ecotourism, from health care tourism and beyond. Tourism is mutually dependent on many other efforts, and when small business is strengthened, when the environment is protected, when culture is sustained, these actions also strengthen tourism.
In order to expedite and ease immigration and customs procedures, as well as security procedures, the state must assure there is adequate staffing and resources at airports and seaports. Also, further fair trade agreements with travel components must be implemented, especially with Asia, to include the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Mr. Case said: “Hawaii has to implement and strengthen the Travel Promotion Act of 2010, which creates a public-private partnership to promote the US as a travel destination abroad. We need to further pursue APEC-type international and regional agency meetings, and we need to assure full US participation in international tourism organizations such as the UN World Tourism Organization. For business travel, we must preserve tax treatment of legitimate business, meetings, events, and performance incentives travel, and we must resolve continuing federal/state/industry disagreements over taxation of online tourism marketing.”
Whether a US Senator, an ABC Store Manager, a hotel concierge, a city bus driver, or a local shopping at Ala Moana or hanging out on the North Shore, everyone must do their part to make sure Hawaii tourism remains a responsible and sustainable foundation of the state’s economy.