The APEC Summit on Oahu last week was a historic success.  Much has already been written around the world about the trade and diplomatic implications of this year’s summit, but my focus is on the positive effects of APEC on East Honolulu.

The scale of marketing Hawaii that APEC brought is staggering.  For example, a Google News search for “APEC” reveals 27,400 results.  If our tourism authority were to buy all the media space and time on all the networks and publications around the world, the cost would be astronomical. 

This was Hawaii’s biggest media event since Pearl Harbor.  Much of the coverage has been policy-oriented, but Hawaii itself has received a good bit of press, like a Sydney Morning Herald article (“Leaders’ close call with grass skirts and coconut bras…” November 14) about the history of aloha shirts.  Fittingly, the real star of the leaders’ “family photo” was not a shirt but the backdrop of “towering palm trees and the sparkling Pacific Ocean,” as described by a Hong Kong Standard article (“APEC leaders lose their Aloha shirts over crisis.” November 15).  The impact of the headline in London’s Daily Mail—“’It’s why I married Barack’: Michelle praises Hawaii as she welcomes first ladies to lunch” (November 15)—in cold and rainy England is self-evident.

Various aspects of our tourism industry have received great exposure, from our hotels and resorts that hosted world leaders and diplomats, to our local businesses that supplied gifts to the delegates, including Kahala’s Umeke Market. 

Hawaii Kai’s Deanna Hayashida, a national award winning orchid grower, presented a beautiful display of local orchids to President Obama.  Many others provided all kinds of services, including Waikiki’s Roberts Hawaii, which transported delegates; Ala Moana’s Hawaii Convention Center, which hosted press and delegates; and Kaimuki’s Town Restaurant, which catered several official receptions.

Our own policy priorities took center stage at several occasions.  Councilmember Tulsi Gabbard and I held a press conference to publicize the City Council’s resolution urging the federal government to ease tourist visa restrictions for Chinese visitors. 

I personally presented copies of the resolution to the State Department’s Reta Jo Lewis, Special Representative for Intergovernmental Affairs, and to Finance Minister Xie Xuren and Commerce Minister Chen Deming of China.  Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Donald Tsang, repeatedly mentioned the visa issue in his diplomatic meetings.  The federal government got the message—the State Department announced the addition of 50 new personnel with the goal of doubling visas for Chinese visitors to the US by 2013.

In the same way that the 1992 Olympics rebranded Barcelona as a dynamic, fun destination, Hawaii has now been branded as a serious place to do business.  Like any branding process, this takes time.  At the height of the financial crisis, President Obama criticized the companies that took junkets to Las Vegas with federal bailout money.  After APEC, that argument becomes much harder to make about Hawaii, and it’s only logical that one or more of the corporate leaders who attended the APEC CEO Summit might schedule a future convention or expo here.

We cannot dismiss the real traffic inconveniences and negative impacts on area businesses that came with APEC.  I am grateful for the patience and aloha, and the generosity we further showed in our volunteerism, that Oahu residents exhibited.  I hope the lessons we learned will inform our handling of future large events.

Overall, APEC was a game changer for Hawaii.  All the organizers, volunteers, and staff who devoted so much blood, sweat, and tears to the event deserve a heartfelt mahalo.


About the author: Stanley Chang is a Honolulu City Councilmember representing East Honolulu.