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Could the Group of Seven come to Hawaii next year?
With the collapse of the Trump administration’s original plan to hold the high-profile summit at the Trump National Doral in Miami, Hawaii has reportedly been floated as a possible alternate site.
According to The New York Times, Hawaii is said to be on the short list for selection, alongside Utah, to host the prestigious gathering of top world leaders. But the question Hawaii locals should ask themselves is, are we ready for a G7?
Hawaii is no stranger to foreign visitors, as a frequent destination for both global tourists and international navies, the latter of which frequent Pearl Harbor for annual multinational war games.
But big diplomatic and international events, like a G7 summit or the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, are rare in Hawaii — and that shouldn’t be the case for a major Pacific hub.
Big events can bring great prestige to a host city, as well as millions of potential dollars in revenue. The catch, however, is that in order to be competitive for international economic, political and athletic events, a host has to put an ongoing emphasis on modern infrastructure, economic development and overall aesthetics to be considered hospitable.
Hawaii, and especially Honolulu, long known for traditions of hospitality, has in recent years let itself go and is showing signs of burnout.
Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, which serves as the primary entry point for many visitors, was recently ranked the third worst in America for terminal facilities, airport accessibility, check-ins, restaurants and retail.
The late senator Inouye, who in his lifetime secured billions in funding to modernize and construct many local facilities, must be rolling in his grave as the airport named after him has essentially become what can only be described as a giant, molding, concrete blockhouse that just happens to have a runway.
Driving from the airport to Waikiki looks less like visiting a first-world superpower and more like taking an expedition through some kind of post-industrial Pacific Rust Belt.
Even in the aftermath of the APEC summit’s cosmetic additions of fancy street lights, the planting of palm trees, and the superficial clearing of homeless encampments along the immediate airport-to-town route, one would be hard-pressed to say that Oahu looks and feels like the kind of world-class tourist destination we like to say we are.
Oahu’s public spaces are atrocious, complete with trash-littered parks and terrifyingly dirty bathrooms. Uncut weeds and grass along the sides of major roadways are allowed to grow wild, and potholes continue to litter many streets.
Many of Oahu’s roads are also dangerous or poorly designed, which confuses even experienced local drivers and can be nightmares for visitors. Traffic congestion is awful, even in the absence of road closures for presidential convoys, and for all those who say that Honolulu rail will fix everything, we’re still waiting for rail to actually be completed.
There’s also a new elephant in the room that few are prepared to talk about, and that is the resurgence of Native Hawaiian sovereignty protests which have exploded across Hawaii in the wake of the ongoing TMT controversy.
Any major international event in Hawaii will almost certainly see mass sovereignty demonstrations, and I can easily imagine European heads of state looking derisively at Donald Trump as they ask, “Mr. President, who are you to lecture us about our internal problems when you can’t even build a telescope?”
Hawaii leaders need to think strategically about making and keeping our islands ready for business. Hawaii’s economic lifeline depends on this.
Yes, in preparation for APEC, state and local governments invested in security upgrades, cosmetic modifications, cleanups and even power-washed buildings to look hospitable, but that is purely tactical planning. The minute APEC was over, we went right back to running our state back into the ground.
Our leaders need to have a long-term strategy for urban revitalization, aesthetic upkeep and infrastructure development. I find it unsettling that countries like Saudi Arabia have leaders pushing 2030 plans for tourist-friendly, opulent “green” cities connected by high-speed Hyperloop One vehicles, and here in Hawaii, the best we can come up with is rail (and you see how well that’s going).
For too long our local elected officials have pointed fingers at state agencies and blamed functionaries for failures in tourism, business, infrastructure and everything else under the sun.
Accountability begins at the top, and our leaders need to take personal responsibility for getting and keeping Hawaii ready for global competitiveness. Hawaii needs to look and act the part, and our elected officials must do their part.
We need to have a G7 in Hawaii. We should also try to snag a Summer Olympics, as well as other major international events.
To be blunt, we need the money, we need the prestige and we certainly need to do better than we’ve been doing these last few years.
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