Hawaii received the first Conde Nast Travel Navigator Award, recognizing its influential role in the tourism industry, during a small ceremony July 13 at the Halekulani in Waikiki.
"In five decades, [Hawaii] has contributed more to the international travel industry than any other travel destination," Chris Mitchell, vice president and publisher of Conde Nast Traveler, told local CBS affiliate KGMB 9. "And it’s among our readers’ favorites, year after year."
Gov. Linda Lingle accepted the award at the gathering of state tourism officials, airline executives and hotel representatives, taking the opportunity to laud Hawaii’s visitor industry for its contributions to the Islands’ drive for statehood more than 50 years ago.
"Statehood wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of dedicated individuals," Lingle said. "Many are aware of the efforts led by government leaders and the public in the pursuit of statehood, but most aren’t aware of the involvement of Hawaii’s visitor industry leaders, who worked diligently to make Hawaii the 50th state."
Both Mitchell and the governor spoke at length concerning the current economic challenges facing Hawaii’s visitor industry, and Lingle mentioned May hotel occupancy figures that were the lowest in more than 20 years and visitor spending that is off more than 16% year to date.
She did, however, express confidence in the "hard work and innovation" its leaders demonstrated in helping to jump-start Hawaii’s economy after 9/11, the SARS epidemic and other setbacks. "Today, we are dealing with the worst global financial crisis since Hawaii’s statehood," she said. "And it is your industry that will lead us out once again."
She went on to discuss a number of public works improvement projects to highways, airports and harbors the state has initiated in recent months.
"We need these projects to improve quality of life for our residents and to make visitors feel welcome the second they step off an airplane or cruise ship," Lingle said. "We can’t wait out the economic downturn. Every dollar we spend is an investment in the tourism industry and another step closer to economic recovery."