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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Tourism must find new path

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

When we are dealt a whammy in our lives, whether it's accident, illness or misfortune in some other form, the strong see it as an opportunity for learning, for growth, for positive change.

The ones who survive the tough times, the ones who thrive, are the ones who acknowledge weaknesses, evaluate carefully and make smart changes. The ones who get caught over and over again, the perpetual victims, are the ones who stubbornly go back to their old ways as if nothing ever happened. They reject the lesson, and by doing so, invite the same misfortune back into their lives until, hopefully, they finally "get it."

It's like that poem by Portia Nelson, "Autobiography in Five Parts:"

"... I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I'm in the same place ..."

Hawai'i is at a critical junction. Our economy is in the hole. Again. As our leaders talk about what to do, we need to make sure we don't crawl out only to fall back in again. We need to make sure they don't march us down the same holey street.

A plan to salvage Hawai'i's economy should not focus on the same level of tourism as before with the same giddy predictions for more and more visitors staying longer and spending more money.

That's the same hole.

And if the crux of a recovery effort is a tourism marketing plan, we're headed right for it. What good will a marketing plan do? It's not that no one knows Hawai'i exists. It's not that the world has never heard of Hawai'i, doesn't know it's pretty or has never thought of a vacation here.

The point is, people are afraid to spend money. The point is, people are afraid to get on planes. How will a marketing plan address that?

Is the goal 7 million visitors a year? Eight million? More as time goes by? Do we want more hotels built? More "attractions" for tourists who won't be attracted merely by the best beaches in the world, the best weather in the world and the coolest people in the world? More activities for those who can't just swim in the ocean, but want to experience it from a parachute, a hang glider, a paraglider, a submarine, a raft or a jet ski?

What if we used this crisis as a time to change direction, to walk down a different street instead of falling into the same stupid hole? Here is an opportunity for a correction to our extremely vulnerable position of being so reliant on one industry. What if our new target was a more balanced economy — five million visitors a year who enjoy a kinder, gentler Hawai'i instead of the pack 'em in, shake 'em down experience they get now?

Let's keep a close eye on our government and business leaders, because they may pretend to not know where the hole is, but we know. Let's work together to find another street.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com