Hawaii residents now see tourism more favorably, poll finds
By Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer
Nothing like an economic slowdown to make local residents' appreciation of tourists grow.
A new poll, commissioned by the Hawai'i Tourism Authority, found 78 percent of local residents say they believe the visitor industry has brought more benefits than problems to the state. That's an increase from the 71 percent who felt that way in 2007.
"In hard times, residents appreciate the industry and what it offers in economic benefits," said Marsha Wienert, the state's tourism liaison.
Tourism is Hawai'i's biggest business, accounting for about 17 percent of the state's economy and employing more than 151,000 people, HTA said.
The industry's higher approval rating comes as rising unemployment , increased home foreclosures and higher bankruptcies have left local residents feeling uncertain about the economy.
OmniTrak Group Inc. conducted the survey of 1,650 residents on all major islands via phone from Aug. 27 to Sept. 20 and said the margin of error was plus or minus 3 percent.
The survey found 49 percent believe their island of residence is being run for tourists at the expense of local residents. That's down from 55 percent who agreed with that statement in 2007.
The survey also gave the state's No. 1 industry relatively low marks for its efforts to sustain natural resources, preserve Hawaiian culture and solve community problems. About 50 percent of the Isles' residents were not satisfied by the industry's role in preserving Hawaiian culture and local natural resources, and 62 percent were not satisfied with tourism's role in solving community problems.
The study found that Neighbor Island residents have a less positive view of the impacts of the industry than residents on O'ahu. More Maui and Kaua'i residents feel that tourism worsens traffic and contributes to overdevelopment.
"We know we still have areas that we need to work on as an industry," said Mike McCartney, HTA's president and CEO. "At HTA, we are focused on driving demand to travel to Hawai'i, but we also understand our responsibility to protect Hawai'i's natural resources and perpetuate our host culture."
This year, the HTA plans to spend $1.6 million on such cultural events like the Na Hoku O Hawai'i Music Festival, the Merrie Monarch Festival and the Malama na Honu project, which is a volunteer program that provides educational outreach to visitors and residents interested in the Hawaiian green sea turtle.