Tourism industry plan calls for improvements

The visitor industry lobbying for infrastructure improvements and improving communication between industry officials and cultural practitioners and residents are some actions suggested in a new tourism industry strategic plan for 2017 to 2026.

According to the “Maui County Tourism Industry Strategic Plan for 2017 to 2026,” the county’s economic reliance on tourism is the highest in the state, with 51 percent of jobs directly associated with tourism. Visitors spent about $4 billion in Maui County last year, according to the report released Tuesday by the county Office of Economic Development.

Visitors represent more than one in four people on the island on an average day and the percentage is rising as Maui continues to set annual visitor arrival records, the report said.

The industry can generate negative impacts in the community as well. Residents note the taxing of infrastructure, such as highways, and natural resources, the report said. There are issues with cultural authenticity and the sense of community as the industry grows.

The document is not about marketing. Rather, it focuses on the well-being of the visitor industry in the context of the community, culture and environment that the industry depends upon and finding the proper balance between them all, the report summary said.

The plan is the culmination of months of work by industry officials, cultural advisers and community and business leaders. The $35,000 plan was funded through the county’s annual grant to the Maui Visitors Bureau.

“This strategic plan addresses the pillars of a healthy tourism economy that must be of benefit to local residents,” said Teena Rasmussen, director of the Office of Economic Development. “It also must offer authentic cultural experiences and honor our indigenous Hawaiian culture, protect and maintain a pristine environment both on the land and in the sea, require our infrastructure to be adequate and in good condition and assure that our visitors receive excellent service and be immersed in the aloha spirit.”

This is the second Tourism Strategic Plan for Maui County. The first covered the period of 2006 to 2015. The earlier plan was mandated and funded by the Hawai’i Tourism Authority.

The new plan differs from its predecessor by identifying actions to take, assigning responsibilities for implementation and offering a monitoring plan, the executive summary said.

“Together, we created a much more accountable and action-oriented plan that will help shape our most important industry for years to come,” said Sherry Duong, executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau. “It is important to maintain a healthy tourism economy, and our community must move forward together to protect Maui Nui’s position as a world-renowned visitor destination.”

The Maui Visitors Bureau is tasked with conducting an annual checkup on the plan’s implementation and will provide an annual report to the Office of Economic Development. The visitor industry and its component businesses and entities have expressed a willingness to be “responsible organizations” for moving forward with actions specified in the plan, the report said. Those organizations include the Maui Chamber of Commerce, the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce and a variety of environmental groups.

Rasmussen hopes county and state departments use the plan as a guide for infrastructure improvements for roads and airports. She cited a fatal the head-on collision on Honoapiilani Highway on Monday that snarled traffic for hours, affecting residents and visitors.

The plan is divided into four areas:

• Community. Industry officials will convene frequent community talk-story sessions about the industry, including its benefits and goals, so residents understand its economic benefits and work together to maximize benefits and minimize challenges.

• Culture. The industry will focus on expanding and enhancing authentic visitor experiences that foster appreciation of Hawaiian culture and the islands’ multicultural heritage by developing more communication networks with cultural practitioners.

• Environment. There will be increased efforts to minimize impacts to the environment and infrastructure and feature environmental quality in marketing the visitor experience. This includes more effective industry lobbying for infrastructure improvements, beginning with traffic, and communication with environmental scientists, advocates and conservation organizations.

• Visitors. Maui County will continue to rely on existing North American markets but also “explore sustainable strategies for attracting more international visitors.” Tourism officials will monitor visitor satisfaction, spending and occupancy through continuing initiatives of the Maui Visitors Bureau and Maui Hotel & Lodging Association, social media and customer service programs.

The plan contains visitor statistics and trends and describes challenges and opportunities on each of the county’s main islands.

For Maui, the state’s second-largest visitor destination, there is a need for better infrastructure and protection of natural resources. Other challenges include trying to attract higher-spending visitors from Asia and Oceania. The plan says that large numbers of these visitors will not come unless Kahului Airport can receive direct international flights from these areas.

Some of Maui’s opportunities include an “extraordinary reputation” as a leisure destination with beauty, diverse attractions and high-quality resorts. Direct flights to Maui from core North American markets remain crucial, with the number of seats to Kahului Airport at an all-time high. There still are potential opportunities to attract more visitors from the East Coast and other U.S. cities.

On Molokai, there is a lack of conventional resort facilities, and visitors must choose to say at a mix of small condominium and “community-based” vacation rentals and bed-and-breakfasts. Many, but not all residents, prefer to focus on visitors from the state but will accept out-of-state guests familiar with efforts to maintain a traditional rural lifestyle. A meeting of industry officials attracted those who want to find ways to gradually grow appropriate tourism that honors the Molokai lifestyle.

Pulama Lana’i and other companies owned by billionaire Larry Ellison are seeking to improve profitability of Lanai operations through renovations to the two Four Seasons resorts on the island to design them for more-upscale visitors. This philosophy can improve job security for residents but is a challenge for Lanai City merchants.

The plan can be found www.mauicounty.gov/oed.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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