Reed Travel Features
HONOLULU -- Towns, plantations and tourism -- they are closely
related in a state of 1.2 million that depends on tour-ism for
one-third of its jobs.
The state aims at dispersing visitors more evenly throughout the
islands, especially to neighbor island areas with lower hotel
The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau's marketing emphasizes
the 50th state's cultural and scenic diversity, which makes it
different and attractive as a destination.
Promoting sun, sand and surf was not enough to sustain tourism.
HVCB research shows a static beach market, with aging baby boomers
opting for other vacations, and many competitive beach destinations
nearer their markets also have beaches.
Hawaii's rural areas around the coasts have much to offer, and
plantation towns have been quietly undergoing restoration under
Main Street programs.
There are new attractions, and there is much to see and
The Japanese, arriving in record numbers last year and Hawaii's
only major growth market, stay mainly in high-occupancy Waikiki,
which has half the state's rooms.
The rural areas are more dependent on a lackluster mainland
market, whose numbers are still way below their 1990 peak.
Some communities also have lost their cultural and economic base
-- the sugar plantation.
Within the last year, the last plantations closed on Oahu and
the Big Island, and cane acreage was reduced on Kauai.
Hawaii has only four sugar plantations left. (See related story,
Sugar no longer is the industry it was. In the 1930s, before
mechanization, it accounted for one-third of jobs. It now accounts
for less than 0.5%
However, it is still the top agricultural earner, and its
decline has dampened local economies that never recovered from
Hawaii's dramatic tourism downturn between 1991 and 1993.
This decline has contributed to Hawaii's being one of the
poorest-performing economies in the country.
Hawaii has been losing jobs for four years, longer than
California did during its slump.
Last year, Hawaii saw an estimated 6,858,000 visitors, a 3.5%
gain over 1995, but still below the record number of almost 7
million of 1990, according to HVCB.
Mainland arrivals, totaling 3,276,000 increased 2%, but were
still 18% below those of 1989, the peak year for the market. The
Japanese, however, came in record numbers, increasing 6.5% to
Also, shorter stays have affected both westbound and eastbound
markets, and because of a decline in the yen against the dollar,
Japanese visitors lost 30% of their purchasing power here in the
According to management consultants PKF-Hawaii, the statewide
average hotel occupancy was down slightly for the first 11 months
of last year -- 76.6%, vs. 76.9% for the period in 1995.
Waikiki, at 81.2%, was down 2 percentage points.
The state is banking on the $200 million Hawaii Convention
Center in Waikiki, set to open in 1998, to bring in new
With its planning came fears of a shortage of first class rooms
in Waikiki to satisfy both the Japanese and the new large
The travel industry, construction industry and business
community as well as the city administration pushed for new zoning
laws that would permit the redevelopment of Waikiki hotels to
satisfy the shortage.
Last month, Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris signed into law his
plans for the district's revitalization.
Gone are Waikiki's strict zoning laws, which stymied new hotel
development for 20 years and kept old hotel buildings standing.
Hotel owners and developers can build taller and larger projects
in return for retaining more open space.
The controversial issue was opposed mainly by Waikiki residents
and three of the nine city council members, who fear
The new laws will bring business to Hawaii's construction
industry, which has not been the same since the hotel -building
boom of the '80s and early '90s. However, the industry has enjoyed
a mini-boom in Oahu retail building.
Oahu is developing as a shopping mecca for foreign visitors,
particularly the Japanese.
Developments include the 40-outlet Waikele Factory Stores in
central Oahu and Honolulu's waterfront Aloha Tower Marketplace,
with 100 stores and restaurants.
Ala Moana Center, Hawaii's largest shopping center, is
undergoing major expansion.
Also, Dole Cannery is being expanded and transformed from a
pineapple-themed Hawaiian-product shopping facility to one of
Maui, the most popular neighbor island for the Japanese, also is
enjoying an expansion in shopping, particularly around Kahului
The Big Island's Kona and Kohala coasts have seen dramatic
visitor growth since last June, when JAL started nonstop 747
service between Narita Airport and Kona.
However, Japanese visitor growth does not seem to have benefited
the Big Island's east coast and its county town of Hilo, except
for, perhaps, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Moreover, the whole
east coast has lost its sugar plantations.
Off the major islands, Kauai, where sugar has declined, gets the
smallest number of Japanese visitors, and its tourism has not fully
recovered from 1992's Hurricane Iniki.