Travel Weekly Hawaii editor Doug Oakley joined a group of
out-of-town mayors on a tour of Waikiki that was part of the city's
Mayor's Asia-Pacific Environment Summit in Honolulu.
HONOLULU -- Now that a $13 million revitalization project is
nearly complete on Kuhio Beach and in Kapiolani Park here,
Honolulu's city fathers are adding more Hawaii to a destination
they say had become too much like the rest of urban America and too
little like an island getaway.
"Our mayor [Jeremy Harris] is biting the bullet and trying to
correct the mistakes of the past and to redesign Waikiki," said
Peter Apo, executive director of Honolulu's Office of Waikiki
Development. "We are trying to soften the destination to recapture
the allure of it."
Toward that end, he said the city is promoting free cultural
events to tourists as an alternative to paid tours and shows;
pushing for more sidewalk dining and cafes; completing the
two-mile, self-guided Waikiki Historic Trail with historic markers,
and kicking off a new business improvement district that has its
own trash and sidewalk cleanup crews and paid "Aloha Patrol"
members who provide security and general aid to visitors.
Apo made the comments on remaking Waikiki to several mainland and
foreign mayors on a trolley tour during the Mayor's Asia-Pacific
Environmental Summit. The tour was called Visitor Destination
Development for the Pacific -- Waikiki, a Story of Do's and
Some of the destination's problems, which the city is now taking
steps to counteract, are that Waikiki had become a place where not
many locals mingle with visitors; much of the beach is walled off
by densely packed high-rise hotels with little beach access, and
there is a visitors' perception that Waikiki "looks much like the
place you left" on the mainland rather than an exotic island
That's the bad news.
The good news is that right now Waikiki is reaping the rewards
after several years of public and private investment that has
changed its look and feel.
Apo said the city has received about $150,000 in donated air
time on hotel television information stations to advertise free
cultural events such as the Kuhio Beach Torchlighting & Hula
Show every night at 6:30 p.m.; performances of the Royal Hawaiian
Band, which plays at the new bandstand in Kapiolani Park at 2 p.m.
every Sunday, and performances by local bands every Friday at 5:30
p.m., also at the bandstand.
Getting tourists to attend local events is one way of giving the
visitor a richer cultural experience, Apo said. "Tourists much
prefer activities that are shared with the local people," he added
to his mayoral audience.
"If you alienate and separate the local people from the visitors
[by having visitors attend only paid attractions], you end up with
a theme park. It's tourists wandering around looking at each
Hawaii Hotel Association president Murray Towill said the city
government's interest in Waikiki in the past few years is a welcome
change. "I think there is a feeling that the city has a role to
play in Waikiki and that has been a catalyst for private change,"
For instance, a zoning law change in 1995 that makes it easier
for hotels to renovate and add more rooms has led hotels to spruce
up their products.
Also, in the past two years, changes in hotel ownership from
cash-strapped Japanese to better-fixed U.S. owners has led to an
increase in property investment, said Towill.
"And with the free [cultural events] the city has clearly made
an effort to enhance the entertainment opportunities," said
From one side of Waikiki to the other, down the main beachfront
strip on Kalakaua Avenue, Apo pointed out to curious mayors from
California to Hanoi the mistakes made and the actions currently
under way to correct them.
Richard Murphy, San Diego's mayor said he took the tour "because
Honolulu shares many of San Diego's problems."
"We're an oceanfront city; we just doubled the size of our
convention center, and there are proposals right now for three
beachfront hotels," said Murphy. "It's tempting to build the hotels
because they offer rooms for the convention center, but do you want
to wall off the beach to do that? It's a delicate balance."
At the beginning of Waikiki on Kalakaua Avenue, Apo pointed out
several new developments that he said were well thought out in
terms of density and landscaping, including Niketown, All Star
Hawaii (a sports restaurant with an outdoor cafe), Banana Republic,
the $140 million low-rise retail complex under construction by the
Honu Group and the new $65 million DFS Galleria Waikiki shopping
"The Honu Group has done really well with its landscaping design
and tree canopies," said Apo. "It will have four retail buildings
and none will be over four stories high."
Just down Kalakaua Avenue from those developments is Planet
Hollywood, which offers sidewalk dining, something the city
"In the past it has been impossible to offer sidewalk cafes
because of the laws," said Apo. "We are trying to ease the laws on
that, and Planet Hollywood has been the first to go after it."
Next on the tour was the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, a
design mistake, Apo said, which completely cut off access to the
beach. The city is "in serious discussions to redevelop the entire
center," he said.
Across the street from the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center is the
International Marketplace, "which is kind of seedy, actually,"
according to Apo. There, too, the city is thinking about
Farther down Kalakaua Avenue where the wall of hotels ends and
you can see the ocean for the first time from Kalakaua Avenue is
the newly renovated Kuhio Beach.
"This is one of the few areas in Waikiki that is open to the
beach, and last year we finished a $13 million renovation that goes
from the Sheraton Moana Surfrider all the way into Kapiolani Park,"
The last stop on the tour was the War Memorial Natatorium, a
closed saltwater swimming pool on the ocean in Kapiolani Park. The
city already spent $9 million fixing up the ornate facade and
adding bathrooms and now is waiting for the state to approve health
rules governing saltwater pools before it begins renovating the
The city will start planning the renovation of the pool in about
three months and will spend about $7 million on that project, said
Mel Kaneshigi, senior vice president of Outrigger Enterprises,
which has 20 hotels in Waikiki, said the area is coming back. "The
city took a leadership position starting with the zoning changes in
1995, which spurred some hotel renovations and now there clearly is
a momentum building," he said.
Kaneshigi said the entrance in the past two years of Marriott
with two hotels on either side of Waikiki, the new Radisson Waikiki
and the addition of a $95 million Kalia tower at the Hilton
Hawaiian Village are examples of the private sector being spurred
on by changes in government attitude.