Danny De Gracia: Hawaii Is Falling Apart. Let's Make Tourism Pay To Fix It - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Years ago, an alcoholic friend of mine explained to me that her cheat to overcoming hangovers was a practice she referred to as “the hair of the dog that bit you,” in which one drinks whatever was responsible for their current hangover to get ready to face the day at hand.

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The tradition dates back to the poetry of John Heywood, who commemorated a night of wild revelry with a companion by explaining, “A hair of the dog that bit us last night; and bitten were we both to the brain, aright.”

Hawaii’s approach to tourism has savagely “bitten” locals over the years, possibly being responsible for the introduction of the Covid-19 pandemic to our shores, not to mention wreaking havoc on our already strained infrastructure, disrespecting local norms, and agitating residents with inconveniences caused by visitor overcrowding.

We’ve barely shaken off the current hangover from the last visitor surge – one that had, at its apogee, locals having wild amygdala attacks over visitors blocking roads, rental cars priced at daily rates higher than some people make in a month, and Covid clusters erupting all across the islands – and now our leaders are yet again itching for a ripe opportunity to put the “e komo mai” sign out for global tourists on our doorstep.

Of course, the public is being told that visitor management is now going to be a thing, where we will responsibly and sustainably engage in tourism that benefits Hawaii’s economy, provides good jobs, respects the host culture through pre-landing education videos, and protects the environment.

Phew! What a doozy. Not to be a cynic, but believe me, whenever local government tells you that there is a “plan” to make everything better, you best know that there is nothing more than a pepper shaker loaded with focus group tested, public relations buzz words to sprinkle on steaming piles of odious poo poo policy outcomes.

Tourism Needs to Give Us Something Tangible

Whenever government steps in to put its hand on the scales of private industry to pick winners and losers, the ideological justification behind this is usually to say that some services are more useful to the public than others.

In exchange for this market manipulation, either government or the industry being promoted is supposed to bring ordinary citizens something that benefits them. Worldwide, this usually manifests in things like the construction of public hospitals, schools, roads, production of clean water and clean energy, and so on.

in line to get thru security
Lines were long to get through security at Maui’s Kahalui airport last month. Tourism is quickly returning to Hawaii. Ludwig Laab/Civil Beat/2021

But I dare any of you to find and ascend the highest hill or mountain here on Oahu today and to look around and see what this place looks like. Does it look like this state is going forward or backward? Do you see the community advancing or regressing?

Does this place look worthy of our tax dollars and all our time and labor put into it? Have the public trees been trimmed and the grass even been cut recently? And what positive thing has tourism given us that we can pass on to the next generation?

Beyond tourist throttling, visitor fees and forcing tourists to participate in visitor education, we need to make the tourism industry pay for the modernization and restoration of this state. The Legislature and the county councils across the state need to make the tradeoff for tourism to be profitable for both locals and visitors.

Every single wave of tourism of recent note has left this state a mess, and this place is getting shabbier, and all the more poorly maintained with each year that passes.

Hawaii is falling apart, and locals alone are not going to be able to finance the future upkeep of this state through paying taxes and fees because they don’t make enough money as it is, and visitors are causing inflationary effects to our economy.

My personal fear is that as things get worse, between the mercenary-minded special interest groups and the elected officials they’ve installed into power, the entire fiscal weight of sustaining Hawaii is going to fall increasingly on people who live here rather than the people who visit here.

Just how much more of this can we take? I’m reminded of a warning by Benjamin Franklin, looking at the post-democratic future of America: “I believe this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can end only in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.”

This is a bad place that we find ourselves in, and it would not be unreasonable to say that as things stand right now, Hawaii is not ready for another round of tourism, as our community barely survived the last one.

We need more than just future assurances from our government. We should get something in exchange for giving up so much of these islands to others.

If the tourism industry is going to continue to profit from Hawaii, then the tourism industry needs to upgrade Hawaii. It’s that simple.

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Latest Comments (0)

This article reminds me of another saying "You want the cake and eat it too". In other words, no tourists but the income from them. And please, stop blaming the tourists for all your ills. Hawaii's bloated bureaucracy and ineffective political leadership have done nothing to reduce the influx of tourists, as they all touted when the pandemic started. Start by cleaning your own house. Mahalo. 

Erich · 1 year ago

OK, let's pull out our crystal balls and imagine tourism ended tomorrow. Sounds magical until you open up the State's bank account and see it is empty also. So, now what do you do as a politician? You need to maintain the roads, the infrastructure, the sewers, lighting, landscaping, the homeless that have no employment, the hungry, the people in need, everything, all on the back's of the locals, 100%.Tourists pay a lot in taxes to visit here already. Millions of people own interests and stock in the companies that rely on tourism success. A lot of them are locals.Are you really willing to risk all that and so many people's livelihoods?  It's easy to complain. It's harder to come up with real life solutions. 

LoveHawaii · 1 year ago

Another article suggesting tourism must pay more. In other words, we have a revenue problem and must get more from tourists. I'd suggest this is bass ackwards. What we have is a spending problem and an inability to live within our means, an excessive appetite for debt and a miserable track record of controlling expenses both capital and operating. Tourism is already providing the most jobs, the most revenue and the most family wealth in the State. Can we do it better? Absolutely. But we can't keep spending more and more and then blaming our woes on the State's biggest revenue generator.

CatManapua · 1 year ago

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