Tourism promotion must consider impact
The Hawai'i Supreme Court's ruling on a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club to force an environmental assessment of tourism promotion spending was based on a relatively narrow legal point.
The court, in a 3-2 decision, said the Sierra Club's Hawai'i Chapter didn't have the standing to force the Hawai'i Tourism Authority to conduct the assessment.
That may be so. But the underlying issues brought forward by the lawsuit remain valid and should not be dismissed by the Authority. In fact, it appears that the Authority is already moving forward to consider at least some of the issues brought up by the Sierra Club.
That's a positive sign.
In essence, the Sierra Club's lawsuit only stated the obvious: When you spent upwards of $60 million a year promoting visits to the Islands, you are bound to have some impact, both physically and socially.
Will the growth in tourism be where we want it? Will the jobs be the kind we value? Is the host culture prepared to accept more visitors with losing the very qualities that attract people in the first place?
These are fundamental questions and they have been asked in various studies and reports almost since the first days of mass tourism.
Tony Vericella, president and chief executive of the Hawai'i Visitor & Convention Bureau, said many of the Club's concerns are being addressed by carrying capacity studies for each island. These studies look at how much tourism the islands can handle from social, cultural, environmental and economic perspectives.
Done right and treated respectfully, such studies can go a long way toward guiding our tourism promotion spending so that we attract the right kind of visitors to the right places.