Recent articles about restarting our Hawaiian tourist economy have caused me to reflect on the importance of aloha and what it means to the state and to the Native Hawaiians who share our culture and welcome visitors to our shores from across the globe.
I have been an entertainer in the tourism industry for over 45 years, and first began performing hula professionally at the age of 10 in Keaukaha, Hawaiʻi Island, for keiki shows at the Naniloa Hotel and for the Lurline when it docked in Hilo.
When our family moved to Oʻahu for better job opportunities for my dad, I performed at the International Market Place in Waikīkī and later toured Japan, Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan, the Philippines and Guam dancing with Aunty Dorothy Kalima.
As an adult, I entertained oversees for both Aloha and Hawaiian Airlines, at resort hotels on Maui, for corporate and business leaders, and for worldclass entertainers such as Garth Brooks and Mariah Carey. I made many lasting friends among the visitors and fellow dancers, musicians, fire dancers, booking agents and hotel support staff I welcomed and met along the way. Aloha was ever-present.
In between these experiences I raised a family, had children and grandchildren who continued to learn, practice, and share our Hawaiian culture, and developed a rewarding and satisfying daytime career in government administration, housing, and real estate.
As Hawaiʻi restarts its economy in the wake of this pandemic, warnings are being sounded about the fear of unchecked overtourism which treads too heavily on Hawaiʻi’s ʻāina and on Hawaiʻi’s resident population.
In pre-pandemic 2019, visitor arrivals to Hawaiʻi exceeded 10.4 million annually, while resident satisfaction with tourism plummeted from 80% in 2010 to 59% in 2018.
The message is clear. While Hawaiʻi’s economy is dependent on tourism, the more tourists that arrive, especially in numbers approaching those we registered in 2018, the less satisfied with tourism our residents appear to be, and the greater the likelihood that what distinguishes Hawaiʻi from all other vacation destinations – aloha – may be at jeopardy of being lessened and diminished if this trend continues.
This has caused me to ask: what is aloha?
For me, having and expressing aloha is like having a full cup of kindness, compassion and acceptance which overflows from one person to another, leaving the recipient feeling valued and cared for. Having and showing aloha requires discipline, especially when the person expressing or giving aloha has had a bad day, or their own cup is less than full. And it requires courage, especially when offering one’s gifts and talents to another includes the potential that those gifts may not be accepted, with a very real possibility of ensuing personal rejection.
How can we ensure that aloha remains a key ingredient of tourism in Hawaiʻi?
Take affirmative steps to manage our tourism, regulate the number of visitors to fragile places and ecosystems and mitigate the impacts caused, and finally, thank and call upon the 40,000 plus Native Hawaiians now employed in Hawaiʻi’s tourist industry to assist in making sure that our Native Hawaiian culture, our Native Hawaiian traditions, and aloha are central to the visitor strategies and management plans created.