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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Native voice in tourism urged

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaiians can make a difference in the state's No. 1 industry and need to work together to develop a "responsible" tourism economy that protects natural resources, honors Hawaiian culture and respects local communities.

That was the message delivered at the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association's first tourism conference, which began yesterday and is intended to get more Hawaiians involved in shaping the future of Hawai'i's visitor industry.

T. Lulani Arquette, executive director of the nonprofit Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, said she recognizes the skepticism many Hawaiians have about the visitor industry and urged people to get involved.

"I realize that many may think that Hawaiians are never going to make progress ... in this industry in meaningful ways and that it's too far gone," she said. "Some of you may even want tourism to go away. ... But you know what the footprints of so-called progress and modernization, they're marching on whether we agree with it or not. So if you want to have a say in Hawai'i's future ... then we really have to be involved in this industry."

The goal of the three-day conference at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa is to create a plan that will ultimately lead to more career and economic opportunities for Hawaiians; better management of Hawai'i's natural resources, environment and infrastructure; and educational resources on Hawaiian culture for the visitor industry.

About 250 people attended the conference yesterday, although about 330 people have registered, organizers said. They included Hawaiian community leaders and Hawaiians who work in tourism, as well as some industry officials.

The conference sponsored primarily by the Hawai'i Tourism Authority and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs follows more than 70 meetings with Hawaiian organizations, visitor industry leaders, government officials and community members, Arquette said.

She said major concerns that emerged from those meetings include the belief that there are too many visitors here; tourism's negative impact on the environment and natural resources; and the inaccurate portrayal of Hawaiian culture and traditions.

Some visitor industry leaders agree that changes are needed and are moving in the right direction, but others believe that tourism is fine the way it is, Arquette said. And despite tourism's economic benefits and efforts by some businesses and hotels to give back to the community, an overwhelming majority of people in the meetings believed that negative impacts outweigh positive contributions from tourism, she said.

Douglas Kahikina Chang, Hotel Hana Maui general manager and vice chairman of the Hawai'i Tourism Authority, noted Hawai'i Hotel and Lodging Association data that 11 percent of hotel general managers and 13 percent of department heads are Hawaiian. That, he said, has to change.

"We have to foster and encourage Hawaiians to pursue and accept key leadership positions in all aspects of the industry," Chang said.

Other speakers, such as Joni Paahao, ResortQuest Hawaii senior vice president of sales, marketing and revenue management, detailed company efforts to perpetuate Hawaiian values and educate others about the Hawaiian culture.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Colette Machado talked about the Moloka'i Responsible Tourism Initiative, a community-based visitor plan to increase economic opportunities for residents.

"But it must be accepted by the residents and it must be respectful to the Native Hawaiian culture," she said. "And it must be able to protect our natural resources."

Machado also said tourism is linked to real estate sales that have driven up the cost of land for local families. She referred to a bumper sticker that said: "Moloka'i: Not for Sale. Just Visit. Our economy and lifestyle depend on it."

Murray Towill, president of the Hawaii Hotel and Lodging Association, called the conference "critical and timely."

"I think it's very important for people in the industry and in the Hawaiian community to be able to sit down and have a dialogue and understand the issues from each other's perspective so hopefully we can improve where we're going," he said during a conference break.

"We're not for sale, but we're here to share," said Nettie Armitage-Lapilio, community relations manager for the Makaha Resort & Golf Club. "If everybody can get that, that would be good."

But Moloka'i activist Walter Ritte Jr., who attended the conference in a T-shirt with the slogan "Tourism sucks," said the conference is a "very small step."

"To me the biggest thing that is missing in all this is nobody's talking about what the Hawaiians have already given up; all of the horrible impacts that Hawai'i had to endure in order for this industry to be where it is today," he said.

"Until we look back and see all the pain and all of the suffering that Hawaiians have gone through, we can never accept this industry. Until we address that, it's hard to buy into all of this."

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com.