So Much More Than Mai Tais

I first learned of the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s (HTA) sponsoring of a group of eight mainland internet entrepreneurs, dubbed: So Much More Hawaii through local media impresario Damon Tucker’s blog. (Damon really wants to down some Mai Tais with these folks. “Hey everyone! I’ll twitter for the next round! Oops! my dang cell phone is stuck!”)

Apparently, the idea is for these folks to tour the islands whilst blogging away in their respective “vertical niche markets” : convention biz, blog talk-radio, travel; both family and solo, food, and so on.

Sounds like a great gig to me.

All kidding aside, the HTA sponsoring of these savvy social media marketers, to have a good time and broaden their bloggees’ online understanding of the “real Hawaii”, could be viewed in various ways. And yes, the Hawaii Tourism Authority is in the business of generating tax revenue and tourism money.

Well, that’s part of their objective anyway. The other goals of the HTA are what you might call of a social, cultural, and environmental nature.

What compels me to write about this is that, while money changing hands is obviously essential to our state’s economy, other aspects of community wellness are not necessarily pegged to money. Indeed, sustainable practice, acknowledged by all as essential to a sustainable Hawaiian society, requires significant non-monetized values: ethics that uphold and utilize appropriate technologies and sustainable energy input/output levels, among others.

Unfortunately, internet technology marketing tends to lack any discernment regarding appropriate uses. A fundamental and shared characteristic of internet marketers and their client sponsors is that not one of ’em has any incentive to blog, or tweet, or suggest, in any way, that community members may benefit from turning their digital content off — and empower their community to be more self-reliant. This perspective is simply less profitable to the social media technology industry. Indeed, it would delegitimize their influence.


Many potential tourists likewise cherish these same use-values. (If they just wanted to be entertained by over-the-top displays of dolphins doing amazing trapeze feats, get trashed on Mai Tais, and then play the slots all night, well, they got ‘Vegas, right?)

A viable alternative tourism scenario hinges on authentic community participation, within itself and with visitors. This alternate plan calls for organization and communication among communities and people. Integrity resulting from sustainable practices done in convivial ways also relys on unfettered access to communication technologies (i.e. net neutrality). Also, this paradigm values the public good. It doesn’t do away with voter-mandated public land and open spaces initiatives.

No offense to these bright and enterprising internet marketing specialists, but I’m not sure where they fit in to all this.

Among their “sponsored conversations” as one of them puts it, will they be discussing:

“How does pono (righteous) media play a part in healthy communities?” Or, “What exactly is the purpose of pono media’s content? Is it to sustain Hawaii’s natural, physical, cultural, and human resources? If so, please indicate how.

As for malama aina and the rest, I’d think that such a discussion would also pose questions such as, “How do we as a community learn and organize to sustain ourselves, such that Hawaii will attract visitors as a paragon of self-reliant communities working, sharing, and using their unique and diverse competencies?”

And if this comes off as a tad ranty, it is really more of an attempt to advocate the non-sponsored (i.e. less promoted) side of community-oriented media.

Nonetheless, I do welcome our more market-savvy visitors and look forward to spocking their online interpretations of Hawai’i.

7 thoughts on “So Much More Than Mai Tais

  1. Nice post.

    The problem as I see it is that no one is paying attention to the real appeal of the Big Island. The real appeal of the big island that draws the majority of its tourism is its relative “authenticity.” Authentic experience is what today’s tourist craves. Unfortunately, it seems to me that gimmicky events by their own nature threaten this authenticity, and seem doomed to fail from the start.

    Not sustainable either, that is.

  2. Darren,

    Thanks for posting this. I wrote these comments on Jay’s forum but thought it’d be appropriate to post here too.

    I was thinking about writing something along the same lines, just from my weird cross-cultural perspective. You “coined”–crystallized–the concept I’ve been kicking around in my head: “Sustainable Tourism.”

    Tourism in itself is not evil. But in its current form it’s close–not authentic, not sustainable, profits are siphoned off the island, human resources treated as expendable assets, not to mention a movement toward homogeneity in hotel/tour related industries owned by multi-national corporations. Yeah, the powers-that-be in Hawaii now offer just about everything except authentic Hawaiian culture. (They love to play up the Polynesian angle, though.)

    I’m bucking the unsustainable practices that are ingrained in the business community, especially Honolulu. We have an entire industry that chooses to be myopic. No one is looking more than a business quarter into the future and it’ll never change until they go out of business. Really, I’ve spent time with all the big boys in Honolulu. When you cut through their business mumbo jumbo, it’s all about short term profits and defensive strategies to keep entrenched business empires from crumbling. No one firmly entrenched really wants to change, but they all pay lip service to the idea.

    My business model is totally counter-intuitive, counter culture. It helps that I’m not going for world domination; that I just want to make a decent living and live in harmony with my community and environment. My business guidelines:

    Quality of visitors over quantity of visitors

    Less trips, longer stays (“long-stays” and retirees)

    Education and culture over flashy (unauthentic) shows

    “Volunt-tourism” (not my word) incorporated into visits so our visitors can give to the community rather than exploit and harm our natural resources

    Long-term relationships with visitors who appreciate, respect and want to continue learning about local culture

    Partnerships with visitors to make our communities better places (Ex: we’re currently working with the local charter school to bring over kids from Japan for home-stay visits. This in turn will fund a scholarship program for local kids who want to experience a home-stay in Japan).

    Now Damon’s not for everyone, but I kind of like him. That’s why I have to bust his chops here and say that I remember him posting a topic on PW way back, suggesting we “limit” tourism to Hawaii. I responded to his post with something to the effect that it would be irresponsible to even consider such an idea. Hence, I’m a bit surprised at Damon’s turn-around in regard to this issue.

    That said, it would be irresponsible for Hawaii to continue with the same tourism business model. Sorry, but I don’t see how bloggers change the basic model other than method of marketing. (No doubt it’ll be effective.) But without an understanding and commitment to sustainability by the powers-that-be, we’ll just keep on pimping the islands, business as usual.

  3. I’m learning more about Social Media in general.

    I really enjoy blogging. Getting the opportunity to meet some of the most respected bloggers in America is kind of thrilling to say the least.

    I don’t know if you have read the profiles of any of these bloggers, but a simple google blog search with their names can tell you that they are much better writers then I could ever be.

    You guys know kind of what I’m trying to do, and these folks are inspirational to me. I believe most of them actually get PAID to blog… and well we all see they are at least getting a paid trip to Hawaii to blog!

  4. Damon,

    Have you lost hold of your senses?!

    You think they might actually be getting paid to blog?
    The heck you say!

    As a student of Social Media you’ll want to study terms such as buzz and viral marketing“. That’s how you too can gain the kind of respect you refer to.

    You’ll get that Mai Tai yet.

    (Btw, cool Mai Tai pic you stitched onto my post at FBIblogs. Mahalo.)

  5. Well I’m trying to figure out a paid method of doing what I’m doing without trying the viral marketing so much.

    I don’t think using twitter and building relationships with individual folks is viral marketing if the relationship is on a real level.

    If other people are interested in reading what’s going on between two people or more using blogs to discuss things can some how bring in more money to the State… then I’m all for it.

    Punafish, I was against Tourism at first when there was much talks being tossed around about this island being over saturated with tourists. This has now changed and has directly affected friends and family that have lost jobs and are on the verge of having to really consider a big change of lifestyle.

  6. P.S. Keep blogging Darren… Love your posts, just wish they could be a bit more frequent even if they don’t include audio clips. Put you into the “rotation” over there at the FBI site until I see you haven’t posted for awhile, I’ll keep you there.


  7. Damon,

    I respect that people change their minds. My friends also have lost their jobs due to the drop in tourism. That’s what happens when less tourists come, the reason I didn’t like your idea of “limiting tourists”.

    It’s even more frustrating when forces beyond our control create the slump (although Hawaii has much to reflect on). The fragile nature of tourism only reinforces my conviction that we have to rethink our tourism model as a whole, which means “get back to being authentic”, and of course diversify our economy. In common sense terms it means anyone who lives on this island must learn not put all their eggs in one basket–it’s risky and unsustainable. This will certainly require “a big change of lifestyle,” but it’s a necessary one.

    Changing lifestyles is what it’s all about.

    That said, I am finding an abundance of opportunities. Now I’m just a teeny tiny company, no special marketing savvy, limited resources, etc…yet even I have been able to find viable niche markets in the midst of a severe downturn. And on a very small scale, I can say it’s helping the local economy. But here’s my frustration: why can’t the big boys with the deep pockets figure out where the money is? What do I have that they don’t? Well…the ability/flexibility to think outside the traditional “tourism” parameters, and an authentic product–thanks to UHH, a local Charter school, and some friends who play beautiful Hawaiian music :-)

    China’s wonderful and someone’s going to make money from this huge demographic. Unfortunately it’s not my area of expertise. We’ll see when the Chinese market takes off. In the meantime I am optimistic about Hilo’s long-term potential with Japanese retirees, dankai no sedai (boomers) and student exchanges. These are untapped markets that many folks are ignoring or don’t know how to access. The East side of Hawaii has a golden opportunity to diversify its economy and stabilize, so our friends don’t keep getting laid off with every market slump that ripples our way. Stability, diversification and sustainability reduces (ideally eliminates) the peaks and valleys of the current tourism model.

    I’m on your side Damon. And I’m optimistic. The East side of Hawaii is a diamond in the rough: the essence of authenticity, the Mecca of Hawaiian culture (that’s how I sell it). No one can sell our corner of paradise better than us. So why aren’t we doing it? Well…WE are!

    Don’t know how things will pan out for others, but on a personal level we’re bucking the trend so far. And we want others to do well, to get stable work and continue to improve our communities. Let’s hope our business and political leaders understand the current market realities and take appropriate measures to make tourism more sustainable. For now, we (Japan Insight) will keep our focus on doing the right things in Hilo and Puna.

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