As a board member of Hawaii Tourism Authority, it has given me firsthand insight into the economy of our state and the future growth of Kauai. What follows are strictly my opinions, as a resident and employer, on where we are at this troubled time in our world and how Kauai is being affected.
I have been very blessed to call Kauai my home since 1972 and have worked in the visitor industry ever since. It’s an industry that, yes, has been good to me. I was fortunate to also start a family on Kauai and now my three children are raising their own families and creating journeys of their own. They are all living here now and I hope they will be able to stay.
Since I’ve been here, I’ve experienced two hurricanes, numerous floods, and financial events that have influenced the best &worst of our economy. Somehow, through it all, Kauai took on the challenge and our community remained resilient and Kauai came out stronger because of our determination.
COVID 19 is testing us more than any of these past catastrophes and experiences. As with other visitor related businesses, Kilohana has remained closed since mid-March. I fully understand the necessity of keeping our doors closed and we’re trying to mitigate its economic impact on both our employees and business.
There seems to be a growing animosity towards our visitors that concerns me even more than our business’s financial plight. When the last of our visitors were departing our island, they were subjected to protestors. It is unfortunate that we are not able to close Kauai to all our visitors until we are prepared to re-open. Those that do come need to follow our rules and be treated with respect. Those that do not, it is best they to go home.
Is this the time to have a moratorium or freeze on all hotels, timeshares, condos and new vacation rental outlets? I don’t feel there would be as much negative feedback from those in the visitor industry, as there would be from those associated with construction unions &contractors, who employ so many island residents. Would the Planning Commission or County Council be in favor of such a suspension? I have many friends in the construction industry and I would personally not want this industry or any other to experience what the visitor industry is now going through. What we need is a balance.
Can we not work to develop a balance and pace our growth where we can address our community needs, infrastructure and the needs of our industries? When 300 condominiums were built in Poipu, visitors did not support the process. Unfortunately like many recent developments, comes more traffic and visitors but no additional infrastructure improvements.
For some reason, we are still attempting to build a resort at Coco Palms. Why are we not thinking of constructing a Hawaiian Cultural Center and park instead? Why do some Kapaa residents feel the need to detour through Wailua Homesteads in order to get to Lihue? Do we really need more congestion?
Does the individual visitor have any real say in all of this? Our visitors could choose any island in our state, or any destination in the world…but they choose Kauai.
Throughout my career, I’m in contact with visitors on a daily basis. Some have expressed how they’ve saved for years to finally afford their Kauai dream vacation, while others have loyally continued to visit every other year…because they love Kauai. Yes, there is a small percentage who do not respect our lifestyle, but the majority of travelers are drawn to Kauai for its beauty, culture and our aloha spirit. To make visitors the scapegoat for our infrastructure challenges and our overdevelopment is just wrong. When we travel to any destination away from Kauai…isn’t it nice when we’re welcomed &accepted by the host culture instead of being labeled “tourist”?
In 1972, agriculture was Kauai’s number one industry. I agree, it would be nice to find a way to once again strengthen agriculture and technology; take some of the pressure off of the visitor industry. At some point, we will reopen our visitor industry and its success will be determined by our hospitality and ability to welcome travelers back to Kauai. Hopefully, we can do this with genuine aloha. Extending Aloha to a visitor will make their day. It might even put a smile on your face as well.
Fred Atkins Hawaii Tourism Authority board member representing the island of Kauai.