Most store owners think visitors will continue to come their way
August 24, 2012
By Stephanie Silverstein
Pacific Business News
When Lanikai Juice Co. owner Pablo Gonzalez moved here from Spain 15 years ago, he was impressed with Kailua’s beauty. He also thought it was strange that he didn’t see any signs directing him to the beach.
He was told by locals that they didn’t want tourists to know where it was.
“Kailua was like a hidden gem,” Gonzalez said. “But unfortunately, for some people, Kailua became a pretty, shiny gem.”
Recently, the crowded beaches became too much to bear for some. And the Honolulu City Council seemingly agreed. Earlier this month, it voted 7-2 to ban all commercial activities at Kailua and Kalama beach parks.
The ban on commercial activities already has alleviated some of the congestion at those beaches and their limited parking areas, and most of the more than a dozen Kailua businesses interviewed for this story feel confident that the city’s move has not done anything that will harm area businesses, even those that rely on visitor traffic. Meanwhile, the Hawaii Tourism Authority says it is committed to trying to strike a balance in these situations that, ideally, stops short of instituting an all-out ban.
Despite the potentially sensitive nature of the ban and what it could mean to the visitor industry, most Kailua business owners spoke openly about the changes taking place.
“I think the businesses that it will hurt the most are the businesses that are directly operating at the beach,” said Gloria Garvey, co-owner of Lanikai Bath and Body, located about a mile from Kailua Beach Park at Kailua Shopping Center.
One of those is Twogood Kayaks Hawaii Inc. President Bob Twogood has reduced staff hours by about 70 percent since the ban went into effect on Aug. 15. His company also sells and repairs kayaks and related products, and still offers off-beach rentals.
More than a loss of visitor-related revenues, some companies are worried that they could lose business from local residents who may be out of work because of the ban.
Puna Nam, owner of Cinnamon’s Restaurant, said only about 10 percent of his business is from tourists. But he said many of the people who work at the beach park businesses not only work in Kailua, but live there, too. Now that their income has been cut, he said there may be an impact on his business.
Kailua business owners say that, despite the ban, tourism will remain a large revenue stream.
“We all have to see how it’s going to play out, but my belief is Kailua is one of the most wonderful places in the world, and certainly one of the most wonderful places on Oahu, and people will continue to come here,” Garvey said.
Gonzalez said he does not think the ban was the right solution.
“I think it’s a patch that they put in to try to solve one problem,” he said. “This is a tourist town. It’s too late to say it’s not. Sorry, too late. Too late.”
The Kailua Chamber of Commerce has not taken a stance on the beach ban issue. Executive Assistant Erin Tagupa said the chamber did not survey its members because, in the past, its surveys on other visitor-related issues had not returned enough responses to help form a position.
“Without a majority opinion, we cannot take a stance,” she said.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority did not take a stance on the issue, either. After the City Council vote, President and CEO Mike McCartney said it was unfortunate that an agreement between the community and small businesses could not be reached, and that the HTA is committed to working with the city, community, business and visitor industry stakeholders to find alternatives that strike a sustainable balance. Hawaii Tourism Authority Communications and Tourism Brand Manager Momi Akimseu said it’s important to ensure Kailua is a good place to live, work and visit.
“Anytime something gets really good and popular, [its growth] begins to affect and spill into the residents’ place,” Akimseu said, citing the North Shore as another example of conflict between livability issues and the tourism industry.
The popularity of such areas as tourist destinations is good for residents, she said, since it leads to more accessible shopping and other activities, but it has its downside, too, with issues such as an increase in traffic and difficulty getting a table at popular restaurants such as Boots and Kimo’s in Kailua.
“At a certain point, when it gets too out of hand, nobody’s going to be happy, and no one’s going to want visitors and everyone’s going to be miserable. But we need that economic activity,” Akimseu said.
The opportunity for the Hawaii Tourism Authority to work with the community, businesses and visitor industry stakeholders may have passed, though, at least as far as Kailua is concerned.
The ban on commercial activity at the Kailua and Kalama beach parks went into effect immediately, and Councilman Ikaika Anderson, who represents Kailua, said the bill will stand as is, at least for now.
“For me to come back after passing it and say ‘OK, now we’re going to amend it,’ would not make much sense. Nor would it be fair to the community,” Anderson said. “If and when the community tells me they want amendments, we’ll entertain that. But there will have to be a movement for that.”
That movement would require hearing from more than just a few residents, he added.
Anderson’s intent was to balance commercial needs and the needs of residents.
Councilman Stanley Chang, who represents Waikiki and voted in favor of the commercial ban in Kailua, said he would be concerned about unintended impacts the bill may have on Kailua businesses, the tourism industry and residents.
“I am concerned that the impression goes out that any of these places, that any of our treasures like Kailua, are off limits to visitors or kamaaina,” he said.