Molokai Planning for a Rise in Tourism

Molokai Councilmember Danny Mateo hosts meeting to prepare for what’s to come.

By Zalina Alvi

When Molokai is hit with the surge of tourism expected to follow Father Damien’s canonization early next year, the community will be the ones in control.

Molokai Councilmember Danny Mateo was on Molokai last Friday to conduct a planning session between members of the Molokai and Maui county communities with a focus on controlling sustainable economic development on the island.

Members of the working group kept the focus on addressing the needs and concerns of the patients in Kalaupapa, and planning for ways to welcome visitors to the island while ensuring Molokai, and Kalaupapa in particular, remain uncompromised.

The working group will be meeting regularly to prepare both topside Molokai and Kalaupapa for what is to come in the following months.

Predictions
“Pre-planning is the best plan for Molokai,” said Julie Bicoy, director of the Molokai Visitors Association, at the meeting.

While no one can say for sure how many visitors are going to come to the island in the near future, members of the group will prepare for a long-term rise in tourism, starting in February 2009 with the confirmation and announcement from the Vatican of the month when the actual canonization will take place.

Maria Sullivan, fundraiser chairwoman for the new Damien Church, said the Catholic community has already begun preparations for pilgrims who will want to visit Molokai with a pilgrimage guide and websites, and explained that there are several possibilities for how the Vatican will choose to celebrate the canonization.

Celebrations will likely begin in the fall across the state, and a relic of Father Damien’s will probably be given to Our Lady Queen of Peace in Honolulu preceded by a tour on the other islands. Events may also coincide with Father Damien’s Feast Day Celebrations on May 10.

Thirty Heads Are Better Than One
Representatives from various organizations, from the Kalaupapa National Historical Park to the Maui Visitors Bureau, were on hand to talk story about what the island’s needs are facing the predicted influx of visitors and pilgrims.

Inventory was taken at the meeting of everything from the number of rental cars on island to the available accommodations to the amount of flights coming in and out. Every person who attended promised to contribute whatever they could.

“I think it’s here to stay,” said Mateo, on the rise in tourism. “And we need to move forward together.”

Zhantel Dudoit, Molokai Responsible Tourism Initiative spokesperson, said this was a great opportunity for local business, including many who were represented at the meeting, to expand and for the community to help itself. Allowing that, further development could include a medical facility for visitors on the peninsula, a new cultural center for Kalaupapa to be built on topside Molokai in conjunction with the Park, and a travel agency.

Superintendent Steve Prokop said the Kalaupapa National Historic Park would be receiving grants in anticipation of its centennial anniversary in 2016, and said the money could go towards some of those projects.

Keeping Molokai, Molokai
As plans were discussed, the natural limitations of the island were kept at the forefront.

“We want to keep Kalaupapa special,” said Ka `Ohana O Kalaupapa secretary Valerie Monson. “We don’t want to lose the feeling of the place.”

The same can be said for the rest of Molokai. Terryl Vencl, with the Maui Visitors Bureau, said with the right marketing, the Molokai community can control how many people visit topside Molokai and Kalaupapa.

Gloria Marks, president of the Patients Advisory Council and president of Damien Tours, said it was not likely the limitation on visitors allowed in Kalaupapa would be lifted from 100 people per day for more than one day for a special event.

As the group worked to find a balance between using a rise in tourism to boost Molokai’s economy, and attempting to preserve what makes Kalaupapa and topside Molokai special, Mateo presented an opportunity.

“During these dark and trying times,” he said, “what brighter star do we have than the return of Father Damien?”

The next meeting will take place on Oct. 22.

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