Friday, May 25, 2012

Our week in Waikiki

We just returned home to Hawaii Island after a week in Waikiki. We were very surprised at how much Waikiki has changed since our last visit.  Two years ago,  the sidewalks of Waikiki were empty during the day and filled with aggressive beggars and street “performers” during the night. Cranes filled the skyline, construction workers flooded the Starbucks, and construction zones re-routed pedestrians and cars.  The state was in a panic over the lack of  tourism revenue, visitors from Asia were waning, airlines were cutting flights, and hotels were offering very low rates to attract visitors.

What a difference two years can make.   Waikiki reminded us more of central Tokyo than Hawaii. The sidewalks, restaurants, and stores were filled with tourists morning through night. Brightly lit signs and flashing lights adorned the streets and heavily air conditioned store interiors were advertising high fashion European clothing and products.   Ala Moana Mall was absolutely packed with shoppers, the merchandise has been up scaled (if that is possible), and the prices in stores like Macy’s have sky rocketed.

Many of the store fronts advertised jobs and most of the businesses could have used more workers.  Our favorite breakfast place, the Wailana Coffee House, had every table full on Saturday morning in their huge restaurant, even though an IHop was right next door.

We had to push through crowds in the Waikiki hotel lobbies, hotel bars were overflowing, and lounge chairs around hotel pools that were empty two years ago, were filled with vacationers.  The Japanese are back in force, perhaps to escape the heat of Tokyo during a hot summer of power shortages in Japan.  We watched large groups of Chinese visitors being toured through high end stores to spend their excess US dollars.  May is off-season in Hawaii, but you would not have known it in Waikiki last week.

The massive construction projects are over and it makes walking on the sidewalks in Waikiki much more fun. The cranes and construction have been replaced with lines of gleaming buildings, shiny new sidewalks, endless storefronts, and exotic restaurants  from the Hilton to the Hyatt.   There were a few people in bathing suits carrying surf boards  near the beach, but they were sparse compared to tourists decked out in upscale clothes popping in and out of air conditioned stores along the main drag.  We walked along the beach front from the Hilton to the ponds at Kuhio beach and sadly even more of the sand in front of the hotels is missing. The efforts to replenish the sand this year has not kept up with the erosion.

The military presence in Waikiki is very prominent compared to years before. The Hale Koa Military hotel next to the Hilton cut down the huge bushes that used to block their view from the people on the strand.  Military men and women are conspicuously present on the edges of Waikiki. They are with their families or in groups in and out of uniform walking to the many bars and entertainment spots in the area. 

Coming from the Big Island, the differences felt overwhelming.  The noise, traffic, lights, and frantic pace in Waikiki are a huge contrast from the quiet, empty island we live on. The crowds of visitors in Waikiki makes it even more obvious how few tourists we have on the Big Island where the stores and restaurants are sparsely filled during this off-season.  Though the crush of visitors in Waikiki has to be helping the state’s tax income, it sure would be nice to get some of the windfall, jobs, and income on our island.

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