There’s trouble in paradise. With the skyrocketing fuel prices and the looming economic crisis, tourism is down all across the state because families are postponing or downsizing their vacation plans.
It doesn’t help when two of Japan’s airlines are raising their fuel surcharges to Hawaii by 43 percent and American Airlines is eliminating its Chicago-Honolulu service at the end of the year.
Hoping to rejuvenate the tourism industry, officials are spending nearly $5 million to market Hawaii in the United States and Asia. One state senator says that “Hawaii has a brewing crisis on its hands, and wants the state to be proactive before things get really bad.”
But Marsha Wienert, the state tourism liaison, sees a silver lining. She says that even though the number of visitors are down by 7 percent in April, they’re staying longer and spending more money. The state is also seeing more visitors from Canada, Australia and China, says Wienert.
What she doesn’t say is that Canada contributed a huge spike in visitors, and still only delivered about 30,000 tourists. The West Coast of the United States alone normally contributes 236,000 visitors, but those numbers are down 15 percent compared with last year.
Both tourism officials and restaurants are offering special deals and discounts, but Ira Rohter, a University of Hawaii Professor, feels that it’s not going to help. In fact, he says that he’s seen this coming.
“If one-third of our economy is linked to outsiders coming here and paying for things,” he asks, “what happens when they stop coming?”
Rohter has been encourage officials to diversify, and promote smaller, more localized eco-friendly tours instead of mass tourism dependant on millions of visitors.
Honolulu restaurant owner Peter Kim worries about two things: the rising cost of getting ingredients shipped in, and the drop-off in tourists. He’s asking a question that everyone who is in business in Hawaii is asking: “‘We have to lower our price if we want to survive, but how can you lower the price when you’re paying more money for the raw materials?’”
Right now no one has an answer.