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Tourism Carries "Sub-Par" Hawaii Economy

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Waikiki Beach Restoration Is a Never-Ending Project

Before and after: These pictures show Waikiki Beach fronting the Moana Surfrider, before (inset) and after a restoration that stretched from near Duke Kahanamoku’s statue to the Royal Hawaiian’s groin. 

Photo: Courtesy of DLNR Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands

“What is Waikiki without a beach?” asks coastal geologist Chip Fletcher, associate dean of the University of Hawaii’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

“It’s vital we continue to maintain it,” he warns. “Unless we take care of the beach, we’re going to lose it.”

Last spring, a public-private consortium completed a “nourishment” project that restored the beach out about 40 feet to the 1985 shoreline by suctioning sand from 1,500 to 3,000 feet offshore. The restored section stretches from the west end of the Kuhio Beach swim basin, near Duke Kahanamoku’s statue, to the Royal Hawaiian’s groin.

But that was a stop-gap measure.

“It requires constant maintenance,” notes Fletcher. “It’s never been a wide, sandy beach. It has always been a project for one administration after another.”

Waikiki Beach is constantly eroding – “We will never beat that pattern,” Fletcher says – so there needs to be better planning about how government, hotels and private organizations will work together to care for it.

Attorney Barry Sullivan, an expert in shoreline legal issues, says agencies need to do more than simply replenish the beach. “We need a long-term solution, an engineering solution, including groins. And we need coordination between agencies,” Sullivan says.

Kyo-Ya Co. LLC is spending $2 billion to upgrade its Waikiki properties. Nonetheless, Kyo-Ya’s president, Greg Dickhens, says the beach restoration is Waikiki’s “most significant” improvement. That’s why Kyo-Ya contributed $500,000 to the Waikiki Beach replenishment.

“It has to be maintained,” Dickhens says. “If we don’t maintain it, there’s no point in maintaining the properties, because there won’t be any visitors.”

Airlift Keeps Growing

New air routes to Hawaii launched in 2011 and 2012 and still in service

Click on image to enlarge.

People come to Hawaii because it’s paradise on Earth. But, it’s got to be convenient to get here.

“Airlift is the single most important element,” says David Uchiyama, VP for tourism marketing at the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

“Being able to get a flight, being able to get onto a plane conveniently and not have to drive three hours to get to a destination – all of those factors come into play when you’re making your vacation decision,” he says.

Getting to Hawaii has gotten easier. There are now 10 million air seats to Hawaii every year, with a dozen regularly scheduled flights added to Hawaii in the past two years from new places as far-flung as Shanghai in China, Brisbane and Melbourne in Australia, Fukuoka, Haneda and Sapporo in Japan, and Bellingham and Monterey on the U.S. West Coast.

“It’s probably in the ballpark of 12 to 15 pure new routes,” says Uchiyama. “Back in 2008, we lost 15 percent of our overall inventory when we lost Aloha and ATA (airlines) within four days of each other. That’s more than half a million air seats.”

Those extra seats also make it easier for Hawaii residents to see the rest of the world.

Extra airlift has always been one of HTA’s top goals because it directly translates into more visitors and more visitor spending.

Uchiyama gives an excellent example. “Korea is already bigger (to Hawaii tourism) than China. Why? You have one flight out of China twice a week,” he says. “… But Korea has four flights a day, two by Korean Airlines, one by Hawaiian and one by Asiana.” Travelers benefit both from the greater number of seats and from competitive pricing by the airlines, he says.

Uchiyama provides another excellent example in reverse. “Back in 1996 and 1997, we peaked with about 2.2 million arrivals annually from Japan,” he says. “The reason we peaked was because we had multiple origination points:  Sendai, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Narita, Nagoya, Osaka, etc. We had about eight to 10 origination points where we had some type of scheduled service.

“(But the airlines) started to consolidate origination points and we ended up with Narita, Nagoya and Osaka basically. So we went down to 1.2 million arrivals. Even from those points, there were reduced flights and frequencies.”

Currency exchange rates don’t affect visitor traffic nearly as much as seat inventory and accessibility, Uchiyama adds.

Despite the recent increased airlift, HTA is not done yet.

“We’re working really hard on the international market and trying to see if we can’t reopen a second international port of entry at Keahole on the Big Island,” he says. “It would require reopening the Customs and Immigration facility, and staffing it. In October 2010, Japan flew its last flight out of Keahole and the only exceptions are charters where Customs and Immigration staff have to be flown in to receive flights.”

Christof Luedi is chairperson of the Big Island chapter of the Hawaii Hotel and Lodging Association and regional VP and general manager at the Fairmont Orchid Hotel on the Kohala Coast. He agrees that, while airlift to his island has improved, it has to increase more.

“Air is a key factor that dictates our hotel’s success,” he says. “It’s very simple math. The more seats you get to an island, the more people have the opportunity to come. But it’s also a chicken and egg issue. Do you promote it first and create more demand? Or do the airlines bring more seats first and then we promote it?”

Luedi describes the roller-coaster of direct airlift to Kona from overseas: It hit a high of about 600,000 seats in 2007, dropped to 555,000, but is projected to increase to about 630,000 in 2013, and Luedi wants even more.

“Honolulu gets 70 percent of the overseas flights into Hawaii and Maui gets 16 percent. Lihue and Kona, we each get about 6 percent.”

Uchiyama says more flights direct to Kona would also alleviate crowding at Honolulu International Airport. “We need to do something to help alleviate the congestion at Honolulu in Customs and Immigration. There have been periods when we’ve gotten reports from curbside that it’s been 40 minutes or more.”

“The last variable is we’re trying to develop pre-clearance like Canada has,” he says, where passengers clear U.S. Customs and Immigration in major Canadian cities before they board flights to Hawaii. “We’re looking at pre-clearance out of Japan because we have so many flights. That’s a long process that we’ve started and what I’ve learned is it would take a treaty between the two countries.” 

HTA is also looking beyond Hawaii’s traditional feeder cities to faraway places such as Uzbekistan in Central Asia, and Brazil, Paraguay and the rest of Central and South America.

“People will tell you we should be looking at Russia and India,” says Uchiyama, but the current airline routing from those places is daunting. That’s why Uchiyama is excited about the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which can make nonstop runs of 8,000 nautical miles or about 14 hours.

“Even Latin America, there’s no way for a direct flight from there until the 787 comes into the market. They’ve been introduced in the last year, but the majority are put into high-yielding routes, which are your business routes. It will be awhile before you see them used on leisure routes.”

5 Challenges

The Hawaii Tourism Authority identifies these key challenges for the visitor industry:

Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

Jan 22, 2013 10:00 am
 Posted by  Aaron808

Regarding the Marathon:

Dr. Barahal is a hero for Hawaii running and tourism.

Last year's had better aid stations than in past years. Plenty of ice and the option to fill one's own bottle were welcome.

Low cost of entry for locals is great.

BUT, if he really thinks, “We changed the ‘cheap guys with poor food’ image," he needs to think again.
"A malasada at the end of the race” is almost inedible. Other than that was bananas, bagels and water.
Pretty poor selection.

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