Islanders growing weary of tourism?
Tourists suck up resources, jam roads and crowd beaches. They bring money and jobs, but mostly the low-paying, dead-end variety.
That negative view of the state's No. 1 industry appears to be growing among Hawai'i residents.
A survey commissioned by the Hawai'i Tourism Authority and released yesterday found that for the first time since 1988, when the pollsters began asking the question, most Hawai'i residents said their island is being run for tourists at the expense of locals.
"We need to take care of local needs first," said Robin Ching, a 35-year-old warehouse supervisor. More tourists' dollars need to go back into schools, fixing potholes and building new sewer lines, Ching said. "We already promote tourism so much while our local needs are neglected."
Even with all the negatives, most residents, 71 percent, say tourism brings more benefits than problems.
Tourists account for roughly one-quarter of all spending in the state.
"We need tourism, guaranteed," said Maka Cleaver, a 38-year-old prep-cook at the Waikiki Outback Steakhouse. "Without them, we don't have any jobs. There's nothing here."
The report by Market Trends Pacific Inc. and John M. Knox & Associates Inc. surveyed 1,350 residents between October and December of last year. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percent.
Pollster John Knox said the survey didn't ask how respondents felt about visitors as people, but surveys in previous years found positive results to that question. So when a majority of people say visitors are given priority over local residents, "the interpretation we give to this is the increasing frustration about population growth, infrastructure, traffic congestion."
Another trend in the survey is a "declining belief that tourism has been 'mostly good for you and your family.' " Only 42 percent answered that in the affirmative versus 60 percent in 1988. But Knox said that's because more people had mixed feelings about tourism, and that very few respondents said tourism has been "bad" for them.
He noted that close to 80 percent of people still say tourism is good for jobs and 53 percent say it's good for residents' incomes. Half of residents say tourism improves the overall quality of life.
"You don't find many people doubting that tourism has economic benefits," Knox said. "It's just that these days when the economy is good, the other things become important to people as well" such as quality-of-life issues.
While most residents agreed tourism offers a wide variety of jobs, many say there is little opportunity to advance and that such jobs have poor hours. Many also believe the best jobs are given to "outsiders."
Knox also noted a slight but consistent growth in concern about the population increasing.
"I tend to see that this feeling about it's being run for tourists at the expense of local people as probably not an anti-visitor statement but more of a sense of, 'Hey, they're building everything up but they're not doing it perfectly,' " Knox said. "The government got quite low scores for the infrastructure keeping up with population, and there's a general perception that the growth is being driven by tourism."
A majority of those surveyed gave the government low marks for building new infrastructure to keep up with growth. A growing number of people also said the government was doing a poor job balancing the economic benefits from tourism against the need to control problems caused by tourism.
More residents find the cost of housing and loss of open space to be big problems in their community compared with a 2002 survey. And more feel tourism is making those issues worse.
Keoni Powers, a 19-year-old Palolo cook, said too much emphasis is placed on tourism and not enough on local problems.
"We need to just clean up, already," Powers said. "Every place you look is so dirty."
Peter Apo, director of the Hawaiian Hospitality Institute, wasn't surprised that the survey showed more local residents feel visitors are given priority over them.
"The bad news is that we felt it building for years ... that more and more people are becoming disenchanted," Apo said. "They feel threatened by tourism's growth. It's not so much the growth of the industry but the way that it is growing. I think they blame tourism for the high cost of housing as an example, the rising prices and how that affects the market and appraisals, landscapes that I guess they feel should have been preserved but weren't."
FOCUS ON RESIDENTS
Apo said he doesn't believe local residents are angry at visitors or blame visitors, but that the frustration is directed more at the industry and government officials.
The good news, Apo said, is the Hawai'i Tourism Authority and government officials recognize the "escalating alienation between local residents." He expects the authority's strategic plan — which covers areas such as preserving Native Hawaiian culture and natural resources — will begin to address that.
State tourism liaison Marsha Wienert said she needed to read the full report before commenting on specific portions of it, but said the industry recognizes "if it's good for the residents, it will be good for the visitor."
"We know that our economy depends on the visitor, but we know that our residents need to come first," she said. "We've always believed that, we will continue to believe that."