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Survey: 53% of Residents Think Tourism Brings More Benefits Than Problems

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A majority of Hawaiʻi residents believe tourism is worth the issues that surround the industry, according to the latest resident sentiment survey from the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority.

Nearly 1,800 residents participated in the survey between April and June 2021. Participants were asked whether tourism is worth the issues associated with it, and whether they felt there were efforts to balance the economic benefits with quality of life.

The research firm Omnitrak, which conducted the study, presented the report to HTA's board of directors Thursday.

"Travel and tourism has been growing at a record pace since the turnaround 2008-2009," said Chris Kam, president and COO of Omnitrak. "A couple good things is that the industry is growing, the bad thing is people start getting concerned with the growth of the industry."

Overall, 53% of those surveyed said tourism brings more benefits than problems. That's the lowest approval rating since the HTA began tracking resident sentiment in 1988.

In this most recent survey, Omnitrak posed two new questions to participants.

"When we asked if tourism is worth it, given all the issues, 76%—three out of four people—said 'yes, it is,'" Kam said.

Kam says only 24% of those surveyed said it wasn't worth the costs that it brings.

When broken down to the county level, 78% of Oʻahu respondents said tourism is worth the issues associated with it.

"On the neighbor islands, that support was a little bit lower, in the lower 70 percentiles," Kam said.

Participants were also asked to rate the efforts to manage tourism on their island. The report said 56% of participants said they didn't feel there was a greater effort to balance the economic benefits of tourism and the quality of life for residents.

Those surveyed in Maui County gave much lower marks to these questions than their peers on other islands.

While the HTA believes the survey is a crucial part of the authority's strategic plan, several members think the survey can be improved.

Rather than have a set of predetermined questions, members say there should be an effort to ask community leaders their concerns. Those concerns should then be taken to survey participants in a question form.

Board member David Arakawa noted the authority is addressing the concerns of residents through destination management action plans for each county. He says the HTA needs to improve its communication with residents about its efforts going forward.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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