Local sentiment about Hawaii tourism was a hot topic this
week, following an April 25 Associated Press (AP) report with the headline
“Agency to Hawaii Residents: Don’t Hate on Tourists,” which discussed a pair of
recently released YouTube videos created by the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA).
The 30-second spots are intended for residents and showcase
Hawaii tourism’s positive impact on a pair of local families, promoting the
campaign’s tagline: “Take care of tourism. It’s a family business.”
The Hawaiian Islands, home to around 1.4 million people, welcomed
a record-breaking 8.6 million visitors in 2015, the fourth straight year the
destination set a new arrivals peak. But the AP story noted that not everybody
living in the state is happy about the growing number of travelers. The report
went on to suggest that the HTA’s YouTube videos were, at least in part, an
effort to combat negative sentiment among some Hawaii locals about the state’s
biggest economic driver.
Intrigued by the idea that Hawaii residents might be growing
increasingly frustrated with the state’s booming tourism industry, I spoke with
Leslie Dance, the HTA’s vice president of marketing and product development, who
was quoted in the AP story, and asked why her organization decided to put the
videos out now.
“It was not a reaction to anything negative,” she said,
noting that the HTA hasn’t conducted any new research indicating Hawaii residents
are any unhappier with tourism today.
According to Dance, the HTA created the videos, which cost
approximately $18,000 a piece to produce, to showcase some of the state’s
unique, family-run tourism businesses and “to remind our residents about how
success in the tourism business impacts all of Hawaii’s families, either
directly or indirectly.”
“It’s more than just filling airline seats and hotel rooms,”
Dance said. “Our impact is broad at the grass-roots level, and every community,
kamaaina [local] business, nonprofit, and charity benefits from the success of
our industry, and I think these videos are a reminder of how fortunate we all
are to have this thriving industry.”
I also spoke about the HTA’s videos with Evan Jordan, an
assistant professor at the University of Hawaii’s tourism industry management
school, who specializes in the impact tourism development can have on a vacation
destination’s residents. He told me destinations enjoying tourism-related
economic high periods aren’t always home to the happiest locals.
“When tourism is doing well in a destination, it means you
have a lot of people coming, which tends to amplify things that are perceived
as not so good, like crowding and traffic,” he said. “People tend to be happy
that the economy is doing well, but it’s more prevalent to them that there’s
negative stuff happening.”
In contrast, when a vacation destination is suffering
through a period of poor tourism returns, residents tend to view the industry
more favorably, according to Jordan.
“People quickly realize that if you don’t have tourists
coming, then generally the economy is not doing so well,” he said.
Like Dance, however, Jordan said he hadn’t noticed any
recent evidence suggesting Hawaii residents are significantly unhappier with the
state’s tourism industry now than in past years. Jordan also mentioned a
resident sentiment study that the HTA conducts every couple of years and posts
on its website.
The most recent version of the study, conducted in 2014 and released
in March 2015, seems to support Dance and Jordan’s assertion that there hasn’t
been a dramatic shift in how locals feel about Hawaii tourism. Asked to rate
their overall perception of the state’s tourism industry, about 1,600 Hawaii
residents surveyed generated an average ranking of 8 on a scale of 1-10, with
10 being extremely favorable.
The average ranking from similar study respondents has been
an 8 out of 10 since 2012.
Jordan applauded the HTA for the videos, saying they “show
foresight in terms of addressing something that could be a potential issue before
it really becomes a problem.”
He added: “I think they’re aware that there is a limit to
what people will take in terms of tourism, and being aware of that is a good
There are, on the other hand, some in Hawaii’s tourism
industry who aren’t quite as happy with the HTA’s new initiative, including Mufi
Hannemann, the president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism
Association (HLTA). While he praised the message of the videos, Hannemann said
the funds used to produce them would be better spent on attracting travelers to
the Hawaiian Islands.
“Our only concern is that the precious marketing dollars
that tourism stakeholders, such as HLTA, support wholeheartedly for HTA to
promote and attract visitors to Hawaii should be used exclusively for tourism
marketing,” he wrote in an email. “That’s their overarching goal and objective
and where their expertise lies.”
Thus far the HTA has spent about $36,000 on the videos, shot
on Oahu and the Big Island, but Dance said the organization already has another
planned on Kauai and will eventually shoot one on Maui as well.
Hannemann suggested that spending money on social-media video
campaigns aimed at residents isn’t an appropriate undertaking for the HTA.
“Leave the education and advocacy of the importance of
tourism to our local residents to the private hospitality businesses, labor
organizations, government officials and business organizations, such as the chamber
of commerce and HLTA,” he wrote, “without tapping into public monies set aside
for tourism marketing.”