Trouble in Hawaiian Paradise: A Realist’s Point of View

My initial post on “Trouble in Hawaiian Paradise” might have painted an unrealistic picture of my island home. I think it’s worth clarifying the real picture versus what my idealistic traveler self sees in Hawaii. So, being “real” for a moment, I must admit that Hawaii, just like other expensive and desirable travel destinations on the globe, certainly feels the effects of a decline in tourism. One particular Gadling reader brought specific issues to my attention that I’d like to discuss in greater detail in order to illustrate Hawaii’s predicament more accurately and clearly.

Newer, more exotic, less expensive destinations are changing the landscape of options for travelers. These new destinations (like Laos, Slovenia, and Mongolia) have changed people’s approach to travel. In most cases, it is not only more cost effective but also better to go elsewhere. Hawaii has always been expensive. That has not changed. What has is that tourists who don’t necessarily want or have to come to Hawaii choose other destinations with similar climate, like Mexico and Costa Rica. These places are certainly more affordable, but the cultural experience is quite different. Many travelers will still pay the extra cost so they can experience “Hawaii.” Others will not.Hawaii is also slow to update touristic sites and accommodate for modern tourists’ needs. Waikiki and most tourist-related buildings were built between about 1950 and 1975, and most of these buildings still stand today with just minor renovations to the exterior or interior. Updates take a lot of time, of course, and there is progress being made — primarily toward the western end of Waikiki with a new Trump hotel and new condos being built where older, smaller apartments once existed.

While Hawaii’s appeal still exists, the condition of the ocean and diversity of life have worsened significantly. Fishing, diving, and snorkeling are simply not as rewarding as they used to be. I know this because my free diving experiences in Fiji starkly contrasted to diving here in Hawaii. It made me realize how other waters are far better preserved — partly because fewer people explore them, but also because there are specific efforts to preserve the biodiversity that we do not have in place here or do not enforce.

Which brings me to the heart of the matter: a realistic solution. There is much that needs to be done to supply the islands with a healthy economy led by tourism. Residents and visitors must be more proactive about preserving the Hawaiian brand and the state’s unique ecosystem. Making local sites more accessible is a step in the direction and, with the addition of the Superferry and the rail system that was just passed, locals and tourists can travel with greater ease.

I am an idealist. I always have been. There is no realist in me, so I will likely never admit this beautiful state is suffering even if we’re right in the thick of a recession. I would rather not feed the negative view of Hawaii, as the WSJ article does.