Tolerance needed during current visitor crunch time

PUHI — When Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua’i Visitors Bureau, gets a complaint call from a visitor that a worker in the industry has just swore at him or her, she still just about falls out of her chair.

The visitor industry, the hospitality field, the business of aloha, of putting on a smiling face even with the home life in shambles and bill collectors hounding you, just cannot tolerate such incidents.

While obviously the industry is doing many things right, welcoming record numbers of visitors not seen since the early 1990s, some concerned about the industry’s present and future are spinning a cautionary tale.

During a lunch roundtable meeting at Gaylord’s last week, Kanoho; Barbara Bennett of This Week Kaua’i magazine; Sheila Arthur of the U.S.

Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility public affairs office; and Barbara “Bobbie” Bulatao-Franklin of Kaua’i Community College, gathered to praise those who put on the smiles everyday to meet, greet, please and satisfy fickle travelers from all over the world whom they have just met.

“It’s an art. It really is,” said Arthur, adding that being in the visitor industry takes lots of skills.

“It’s a people job, and you need lots of aloha,” Bennett said.

You need personality to survive in the challenging industry, said Kanoho, who wishes more people “chose it for a passion rather than a paycheck.

People who have it in them flourish,” and need that certain mindset to survive.

From the airport gate agent to the hotel bartender, interpersonal skills are critical, said Bulatao-Franklin.

All of the participants understand how one negative interaction can mean several visitors will never set foot on the island again, but especially as the busy summer season surrounds the island, they want to emphasize to others in and out of the business the importance of being polite hosts.

As traffic reaches near-gridlock stages at different points around the island (Kapa’a and Lihu’e in particular), why not make a visitor’s day and let them into the traffic flow with a smile and a wave? You might just create a Kaua’i visitor for life, and you’ll feel great about it later, they agree.

Unfortunately, for some Kauaians there exists a “them-versus-us” attitude about visitors, including feelings that visitors behind the wheels of rental vehicles are in he way of residents way on the roads, Kanoho said.

Everyone has to realize that as fast as the strength of the visitor industry today was upon us, just as quickly it can and will fade.

“You gotta remember from whence you came,” Kanoho said. “And you can’t let your guard down for a second,” Arthur added.

“Do they understand their impact on thousands of people? Not really,” said Kanoho, referring especially to the younger workers who haven’t had lots of experience in the hospitality industry.

And kama’aina visitors from the other islands need to be afforded the same internationally famous Kaua’i hospitality, Bulatao-Franklin commented.

“Communication is the key,” Kanoho said.

“In business, it’s what you give, not necessarily what you get, that’s important,” Bennett added.

“The tourist industry is a fragile market. If a traveler or agent has one bad experience or they don’t receive what was advertised or promised, it could mean the loss of thousands of dollars in business,” Bennett said.

“Quickly, the bookings of these activities, accommodation or tours will shift somewhere else, and could result in an overnight loss of revenues,” Bennett said.

The hard work has paid off in terms of visitor arrivals so far this year, which are better for the first five months than any year since 1992.

Also, Kaua’i enjoys the highest percentage of return visitors of any island.

At least 50 percent of the population on the island works in the visitor industry, or is dependent upon the visitor or visitor-related industries.

A business in the visitor industry needs to spend no less than 10 percent to 15 percent of their total revenue to advertise, promote and market their business, and at least 10 percent more than those figures for new businesses, to “announce their arrival,” Bennett said.

“Kauaians have done a wonderful job of fulfilling the dreams of the traveler that visits here,” Bennett said.

“Threatening this fragile market with attitudes of, ‘We don’t want you here,’ ‘Enough, go home,’” having attractions shut down without notice, and other happenings, “impact all the goodwill and years of energy, time and dollars spent to create a viable, healthy tourist market,” Bennett said.

Folks who come to study at KCC, or have business at PMRF, spend at least part of their stay on the island as visitors, and bring home island gifts when they leave.

If the experiences on the island are positive, likely these visitors will return as full-on tourists with their families, agreed Bulatao-Franklin and Arthur.

And just as the island’s people need educating about the special place that is Kaua’i, visitors need to be educated about the variety of sacred sites they may unknowingly trample, Bennett said.

“We look at it as training our own people,” getting them to know their own island well, Bulatao-Franklin said of KCC’s role in educating residents.

Expanding on the partnerships the industry has established with the college and base, Kanoho said the industry needs to partner more with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

As stewards of vast state acreage enjoyed daily by visitors and residents alike, that department is part of the visitor industry whether DLNR workers know it or like it, Kanoho said.

In a heretofore unprecedented partnership between various visitor publications, Bennett announced that This Week Kaua’i, 101 Things to Do on Kaua’i and Spotlight’s Kaua’i Gold have joined forces to offer visitors the chance to nominate individuals or businesses in the visitor industry for awards for showing the aloha spirit.

Visitors get the chance to win prizes like Hawaiian gift baskets for nominating people or companies, and the Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce will acknowledge those local individuals and companies nominated, Bennett explained.

It’s a way of recognizing and honoring those hard-working folks who put on their brightest smiles every day and work extremely hard to exceed visitors’ sometimes-lofty expectations, she added.

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