As Hawaii legislators consider a wide range of cuts to cultural, educational, safety and research programs run by the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), it is critical to understand how this will affect our keiki today and for generations to come.
Now more than ever as we emerge from COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, we must encourage our keiki to embrace the many opportunities our hospitality industry provides. As the state’s lead agency promoting tourism, the HTA is central to this mission.
Earlier this month, more than 1,000 students from high school and intermediate schools across the state participated in the Leadership, Exploration, Inspiration (LEI) hospitality industry program, held virtually for the first time. This program, sponsored by the HTA, was created by the nonprofit organization ClimbHI in 2011 to inspire Hawaii’s youth to pursue careers in the state’s visitor industry by providing them with the means to achieve success.
Since then, the program has helped thousands of students across the state with networking and hands-on educational opportunities in the hospitality industry.
In one discussion, our students discussed the value of tourism and how it directly and indirectly benefits them — including tax benefits, jobs, education, environmental protection and more. They also spoke about less-tangible benefits, such as forming friendships and having conversations with people from around the world, as well as sharing our aloha, culture and history with others.
I’ll share a few of their stories here:
“The pandemic really opened my eyes as to how important tourism really is to me and to everyone living on the Hawaiian islands. Recently, with the islands slowly starting to open back up, stores and restaurants are up and running, and a lot of people are beginning to work again. The tourism industry is especially important to me because as a junior, I am trying to find my passion, take on activities that will improve my leadership skills, and also learn about real-life situations.” — Lahainaluna student
“The tourist industry in Hawaii is important to me because it gives so many locals opportunities to work and find a passion. I also find that the importance of the tourist industry falls under the knowledge that we can spread to visitors that come from all over. We can share our culture, mana, and ‘aina with them. The tourist industry supports so many of the needs and wants of the islands, from agriculture to stores. The money from the enormous industry gets funneled back into our communities, schools, roads, and government. The people of Hawaii should be so grateful to have such a once-thriving industry and soon to be brought back once again. I know that I’m so very thankful for this industry not only because of the profits that Hawaii gets but for the opportunities that are given to many local keiki and future generations.” — Molokai High School student
“The tourism industry is important to Hawaiians because it is where 30% of our income comes from. Despite the fact that we sometimes rely on tourists, I think the important thing is that we are able to share and show these people who we are in person. The tourism industry is not all about money, but about exchanging cultures and practices, through tourism we are able to share our aloha and the true spirit of our people. Through these opportunities we are able to not only welcome them but we are able to make them feel like a part of our ohana.” — Waianae High School student
Our keiki need support, education and resources to make well-informed decisions about their interests and careers. Cuts to the HTA would undermine the progress made by so many to help our students find valuable opportunities right here at home.