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Tourism – Bane or Boom?

Tourism has been on my mind lately. Seeing Moloka’i this weekend, with it’s decidedly ‘We are not going to be a tourist mecca and that’s that” flavor, and watching the hordes streaming onto rental car transportation busses at the Maui airport and being stuck in daily traffic along Alii Drive where everyone likes to cruise the ocean front scene in Kona, I think about human impact.

I read about a new Atlantis resort being planned for Oahu which will draw over 700,000 gallons of sea water to fill its aquariums and “water adventures” and the locals bemoaning the loss of their beautiful island.
Someone on the comment stream for the Atlantis said, “Well, at least it will create hundreds of jobs.” Isn’t that what they always say? And where do these people live?

Reports say that Hawaii Island has to create 66,000 housing units just to stay on top of need in the next few years. What about roads and schools to go with them?
When I lived in Silicon Valley, I saw rapid expansion in the valley, where malls and housing developments locked farm land away forever. Only after hundreds of thousands of people moved into the valley did leaders talk about “smart growth.”

If food supply was cut off from the Hawaiian Islands, people in Oahu and Maui would be out of food shortly and have no way to feed its residents. The Big Island struggles with food security, as well, and people on the East side say County leaders need to focus on food, not tourism and should have a strong plan for helping farmers (The Big Island currently is the only island with enough land capacity to actually feed its current population.)

What would at first appear on Molokai as “anti-tourism” should be reframed as “self preservation”. They only have one hotel, and two condo complexes and Alamo is the only car rental agency. That means only a few hundred visitors can be on the island at one time. There is no traffic there and no stop lights. The locals actually were socializing on the very slim beach parks with their beach chairs on part of the highway and their trucks scooting out on the other side of the road. They own the island.

As a promoter of “fun things to do”, I have a sharper eye now on the socioeconomic impact of the fun. As my friend Dania said yesterday: “Sustainability over promotion”.

Tourism has its place, but thinking long term and looking around where beloved places are being “Instagrammed To Death” as headlines state and so overcrowded NO ONE can enjoy themselves (Yosemite, Lake Tahoe) leaders need to act soon. Once a place becomes overrun and ruined, those tourist dollars dry up.

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