Hawaii’s tourist boom brings growing pains
Hawaii is experiencing its greatest tourist boom in history. But there are fears that the Islands’ friendly “Aloha spirit” will be sacrificed in the rush to keep pace with the influx.
The growing pains are most evident in the famous sun-bathed Waikiki Beach community. The skyline is changing. Giant hotels are rising higher and higher above the palm trees.
An estimated 243,000 tourists visited Hawaii in 1959, and spent about 101 million dollars, according to the Hawaii Visitors Bureau. This year’s tourist crop should be even larger. In 1930, there were only 18,651 visitors. The tourist industry is fourth in Hawaii’s economy ladder behind the military, sugar industry and pineapple.
The sands where Hawaiian royalty once played is taking on a Coney Island look — crowded, with people as well as neon signs. Today, an estimated 20,000 persons are permanent residents of Waikiki.
The reasons behind the rush
What caused the sudden rush of mainlanders and foreigners to see the Pacific paradise? Surf, sand and sea, to be sure. But, there were many other contributing factors.
The Hawaiian Visitors Bureau has kept up a mammoth campaign to put Waikiki vacations within reach of persons of moderate means. Real effort was made to promote the islands as an easily-accessible paradise. Scheduled air and sea service was increased and improved. Seven multi-deck hotels rose in rapid succession.
Then, the standard of American living rose. The jet age put Hawaii within five hours of California.
The sudden influx of tourists was most noticeable immediately following statehood last year. Hotels were not ready for the boom. Airlines and tour agencies complained they had to turn travelers away because of hotel room shortages. There were cries that advance reservations were canceled. Crowded, hotels shuffled some occupants into small rooms without baths. The hotels do not want this to happen again.
Waikiki adding more hotels
More than 2,000 additional hotel rooms in Waikiki will be completed this year — a 45 percent increase over the present number. Also, there will be 352 new rooms on nearby islands.
With all the good things have come some bad. Too many people — tourists and residents — are crammed into too small an area. A few Waikiki businessmen are overly concerned with extracting that last buck from the visitor.
Waikiki’s charm must not be lost. Old timers say they do not want it to become another Miami.
Waikiki has grown too fast for its surroundings. It is a little shabby around the edges. Outlying areas are referred to as “high class slums.”
Howard L. Cook, an architect, says, “There is nothing authentically Hawaiian in Waikiki. Examine the true Hawaiian grass shack culture — that is not what the tourist wants.
“Waikiki is different, certainly, but it is not the tropical paradise people come 2,000 miles to see. That is what they picture — a tropical paradise. But then they insist on all the features of a good hotel.”
Cook adds, “Waikiki is a residential area we are trying to make into a resort.”
Not enough land for everything
Tropical foliage is disappearing under hotels and parking lots. Architects demand more land for landscaping. Hotels need the land for more rooms.
To keep the semi-tropical atmosphere, gardens, palms and ferns are planted everywhere. Giant palm trees can be found in hotel lobbies.
Harland Bartholomew of Washington, DC, head of a national planning firm which has a Honolulu office, has summed up the fears of local city planners. “You must not overcrowd the land to the point where you lose the things which bring the tourists here.”
Bartholomew describes recently-constructed apartment buildings at the foot of famous Diamond Head as “warts on the face of a beautiful woman.”
Newspaper ads from 1960 showing the new developments
New construction: Hotel Beachwalk Terrace (1960)
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New construction: The Ilikai apartment complex in Honolulu (1960)
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