It is believed that Hawai‘i’s first accommodations for transients were established sometime after 1810, when Don Francisco de Paula Marin “opened his home and table to visitors on a commercial basis …. (in) ‘guest houses’ (for) the ship captains who boarded with him while their vessels were in port.”
In Waikīkī, in 1837, an ad in the Sandwich Island Gazette newspaper extended an invitation to visit the new “Hotel at Waititi” (as Waikīkī was sometimes called) – the exact location of this first hotel was not given, however it remained in business for only a few years.
In the 1870s, another foreign resident, Allen Herbert, turned his home into a family resort. Herbert’s enterprise broadened its appeal by welcoming ladies and children. In 1888, this became Waikīkī’s second hotel – The Park Beach Hotel.
In 1893, the first famous Waikiki hotel opened. George Lycurgus, leased Herbert’s premises, renamed the hotel “Sans Souci” (“without care”) and turned it into an internationally known resort to which visitors like the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson were attracted (the beach, there, is still named for it.)
When Hawaiʻi became a US territory (June 14, 1900,) it was drawing adventuresome cruise ship travelers to the islands. Hotels blossomed, including Waikiki’s oldest surviving hotel, the Moana Hotel, in 1901.
However, the tourists stopped coming – possibly because Honolulu was swept by bubonic plague in 1899 and 1900. There were reports that Los Angeles was anticipating a bumper crop of tourists for the winter of 1902. Competition had already begun.
Over the decades, promotional efforts grew and so did the number of tourists.
In 1917, the Hau Tree was purchased and expanded – the buyers renamed it the Halekulani (“House Befitting Heaven.”) The Royal Hawaiian Hotel opened on February 1, 1927.
During the 1920s, the Waikīkī landscape would be transformed when the construction of the Ala Wai Drainage Canal, begun in 1921 and completed in 1928, resulted in the draining and filling in of the remaining ponds and irrigated fields of Waikīkī.
In 1941, a record year, in which 31,846 visitors arrived, World War II brought an abrupt end to tourism in Hawaiʻi. Three years later, the Chamber of Commerce began bringing it back to life with a Hawaiʻi Travel Bureau (now HVCB.)
An important priority was to get the ocean liner “Lurline” back in the passenger business after her wartime duty. In the spring of 1948, with an enthusiastic welcome by some 150,000 people and an 80 vessel escort, she steamed into Honolulu Harbor to reclaim her title as “glamour girl of the Pacific.”
Also In 1948, American President Lines resumed flying the Pacific and scheduled air service was inaugurated to Hawaiʻi.
1959 brought two significant actions that shaped the present day make-up of Hawai‘i, (1) Statehood and (2) jet-liner service between the mainland US and Honolulu (Pan American Airways Boeing 707.)
These two events helped guide and expand the fledgling visitor industry in the state into the number one industry that it is today.
Tourism exploded. Steadily during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the millions of tourists added up, and Hawai‘i was learning to cope with the problems of success. The yearly visitor arrivals total peaked at nearly 9.4-million people in 2017.
Tourism is the activity most responsible for Hawaiʻi’s current economic growth and standard of living.
Although many emerging industries – such as technology, film, health & wellness, professional services, specialty products and others – show great promise for the future, Hawaiʻi’s economy will likely depend on the activity generated by visitor activity for years to come.
Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA) has been adjusting to deal with both the short-term challenges facing Hawai‘i’s tourism industry and the longer-term challenge of achieving a healthy and sustainable industry that provides maximum benefits to Hawai‘i’s community.
I was happy to have served for four years on the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority.