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Planning for Managed Tourism

By Sage Yamashita, Intern Reporter

On a small, rural island like Molokai, whose residents have fought for preservation of their cultural heritage and against overdevelopment, tourism is a controversial subject. Many residents welcomed the lack of visitors brought by the pandemic, while local businesses often suffer from drops in visitor numbers. In an effort to rebuild, redefine and reset the direction of tourism, the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) is making progress with the Molokai Destination Management Action Plan (DMAP). Over a three-year period, the plan’s focus is on the stabilization, recovery and rebuilding of the visitor industry for the island.

 “HTA was getting a lot of heat at the state legislature because in 2019, Hawaii had a record breaking number of tourists, over 10 million that came to Hawaii,” said Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, county councilmember for Molokai, and member of the HTA’s Molokai Task Force. “They wanted HTA to manage the amount of tourists coming in because it’s too much.”

The Molokai DMAP first took direction from Molokai representatives in a Steering Committee and Advisory Group. The steering committee was created in the beginning of 2020 and solely consisted of those that financially benefit from tourists, while the Advisory Group was a group that sought to manage tourism. Over time, the members of each group decided to come together to create one decision making body. Since combining the two groups into a task force, it left Molokai as the only island without a steering committee and just a task force in the HTA planning process. 

The steering committee developed the Molokai DMAP Vision at its first meeting. According to Maui Nui DMAP action plan, by 2024, together with the community, the visitor industry will: support developing basic infrastructure that benefit residents, kama‘aina travelers and out-of-state visitors; and develop shared strategies and actions for a balanced long-term future that contributes to economic sustainability for the community and preserves the quality of life for residents. 

Rawlins-Fernandez, one of the only Molokai residents still involved in the process from the initial meetings, said one of her concerns was the lack of publicity HTA provided for subsequent planning. 

“I think maybe there was an initial meeting that was… made public,” she said. “And then after that, whoever showed up or invited continued to participate.” 

HTA wants to focus on the community’s input, so actions for the Molokai DMAP were shaped by underlying issues that were identified by the steering committee and also appeared in the community input. These actions include goals to strengthen tourism through supporting job stability; keep residents feeling safe and comfortable in their communities without feeling pressure from outside sources (keep Molokai, Molokai); residents are empowered to have control of events and tourism activities, trust in the community; and residents participate in tourism and educating visitors.  

As meetings were held, four Molokai Task Force subject-matter committees were formed. The first one examines how to support new businesses/existing businesses to transition in new areas. According to HTA, the committee met in July and is looking at conducting a needs assessment. The second focus on messaging and developing communication pieces to educate visitors about what to expect on Molokai, including activities, safety and mutual respect between residents and visitors. Committee number three examines how to support new nonprofits and volunteer opportunities with visitors. The committee met in July and August and is also looking at conducting a needs assessment. The last committee looks at transportation issues, specifically air and ferry services. 

“Those of us that were on the advisory board asked for the meetings to be made public so that everyone in the community can have a say, can watch the process and play a part, have a role in this,” said Rawlins-Fernandez. “Because that’s how Molokai likes to do it. We don’t like to be told. We like to at least be given the opportunity to participate.”

HTA staff did not return requests for comment from The Molokai Dispatch. 

To read about the latest updates of the Molokai DMAP, visit hawaiitourismauthority.org/media/10087/molokai-summer-2022-progress-report_ada_rev.pdf. 

If you would like to get involved in the tourism planning process, email Rawlins-Fernandez at keani.rawlins@gmail.com and look out for any upcoming updates and meetings. 


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