Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 8, 2001

Tourism Talk
Is the ADB worth its hype? and other unknowable questions

 •  Bank summit to open amid high security
 •  Advertiser special: ADB in Hawai'i — global issues, local impact

By Michele Kayal
Advertiser Staff Writer

More often than not, a basic question has a sneakily complicated answer.

"Is it worth it?" as someone asked me about the Asian Development Bank meeting that opens here tomorrow, is right up there with "Who dunnit?" and "Why did the chicken cross the road?"

The answer to "Is the ADB meeting worth it?" depends, in a rather Clintonian way, on what "it" is.

If "it" refers to the amount of money being spent — somewhere between $2 million and $7 million for security alone, or as much as $2,300 per delegate — then maybe not. The $11 million the meeting will bring in is about the same the state reaps from other events of similar size that are far less trouble and expense. And it's nowhere near the $80 million the American Dental Association convention left behind. No one needed to ask whether the 30,000 dentists were "worth it."

If "it" refers to re-routing traffic and closing parts of Ala Moana Beach Park for the week, then some commuters and surfers would most likely lean toward "No," it's not worth it.

If "it" refers to giving hotel workers a lever on which to force a contract agreement from Hilton and others, then those workers might say they got good value.

But dollars and point of view are not the only elements that complicate the determination of whether sacrifices for the ADB meeting are "worth" what Hawai'i gets back.

The main value of the ADB conference to Hawai'i is predicated on a long-term, intangible reward. The ADB event — a head-of-state-less consolation prize after losing the World Trade Organization meeting in 1999 — is seen as a key step in finally positioning Honolulu as "The Geneva of the Pacific," a hub of important international business and diplomatic meetings.

But whether the ADB meeting will launch that ship is almost impossible to determine. Unlike the dentists' convention, no particular groups are standing by to book their events if this one goes well. Establishing cause-and-effect between the ADB and similar bookings that come to Hawai'i in the future will be largely circumstantial. Think Pacific Basin Economic Council.

International media coverage that will fill newspapers and televisions around the world with pictures of happy finance ministers convocating in the bright and beautiful Hawai'i Convention Center has also been cited as a benefit.

But of the 300 reporters registered for the event, 100 were from Hawai'i. Dow Jones International, Reuters, Bloomberg, London's Financial Times and several Asian business wire services will be there in force, as will the major dailies of Japan and Korea and several other Asian countries.

The financial press will certainly cover what the board of governors does. But most of the local and international media has been fascinated not by the ADB itself or its economic importance to Asia, but by the issues of protest groups and the possibility of violence surrounding the meeting. Will it be like Seattle? Or at least like Quebec City? And these are the issues likely to find their way to the front pages.

Ironically, if scheduled demonstrations are sleepers, Hawai'i may not get as much air time as it likes. If the demonstrations are too virulent, it may get more than it wants. And, of course, if there is human injury or property damage, the costs to the state's coffers and its image could be more than it bargained for.

So the question "Is it worth it?" is not one that can be easily answered at the end of this week. Or maybe ever. Because whether the ADB meeting proves a boon or a bust will be measured largely by whether Honolulu becomes a star on the international meetings circuit, and whether the ADB was the one that started it all. Both are evaluations as subjective as knowing why a chicken would want to cross a road.