Travel Tips

Hawaii Celebrates Its Big 5-0 While Dealing With Downturn, Offering Travel Deals

Locations in this article:  Honolulu, HI

Hawaiian SurfersHawaii, America’s 50th state, is celebrating its birthday today, though celebrations will be muted as protesters agitate for self-governance and the state’s primary industry, tourism, continues to suffer as a result of the economic downturn.

Even before Hawaii officially transitioned from territory to state in 1959 it was a mecca for vacationers who reveled in the laid-back tropical atmosphere. The tourism industry has long been the lifeblood of the islands, and in 2008 Hawaii received more than 7 million visitors.

However, over the last year …… those numbers have dropped by almost 10 percent, and along with them, Hawaii’s economy.

Hotel occupancy, which once hovered around 80-90 percent, fell to as low as 45 percent at one point as the recession bit into potential visitors’ travel budgets. Right now it is averaging around 66 percent.

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The decline in business has caused tax revenues to fall 10 percent, which has left the state government with a budget deficit of $800 million. Thousands of hospitality workers—and state employees—have been laid off, causing the state’s unemployment rate to rise to a 31-year high of 7.4 percent.

Hanauma BayThe state’s budget problems have prompted officials to scale back birthday celebration plans. Kippen de Alba Chu, the chairman of the Hawaii Statehood Commission, said splashy events such as parades, fireworks and parties in the capital of Honolulu would have been an unnecessary expenditure of scarce state funds.

They will however commemorate the day with entertainment by local musicians, the unveiling of a 50th anniversary postage stamp, walking tours, and a day of panel discussions at the Hawaii Convention Center emphasizing tourism, alternative energy and Native Hawaiian rights.

There is another reason that officials don’t want to make a big deal of the birthday. A small but vocal group of residents are opposed to Hawaiian statehood, and plan to stage protests today outside the Convention Center.

Though the 1959 referendum on statehood garnered support from 94 percent of voters, the ballot did not offer an option for independence—only to become a state, or remain a territory.

The hibiscus is Hawaii’s official state flowerThousands of native Hawaiians, organized into dozens of activist groups, have been lobbying for years for increased self-governance, a right they lost in 1893 when a group of Anglo businessmen overthrew their kingdom with the help of U.S. Marines.

In 1993 President Clinton signed a bill offering an official apology for the overthrow of the kingdom, which bolstered activists’ claims for sovereignty. The cause has gained enough steam that one of Hawaii’s senators, Daniel Akaka (D), has introduced legislation into Congress that would create a process for Native Hawaiian self-governance.

Peter was recently broadcasting his radio show from Hawaii’s iconic Pink Palace. Listen to the Hawaii show here:

Although celebrations today will be muted, travel providers have been rolling out deals and promotions all year long to entice visitors. We rounded up a few fall deals for travelers:

Hawaiian SunsetMarriott Resorts Hawai‘i is offering a “Hawai‘i Statehood Package” at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa and JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina. The package is available throughout 2009 and includes a free fourth night when booking three nights, plus, daily breakfast for two, a one-time $50 resort credit, and a newly minted Hawai‘i state quarter. For reservations, go to Marriott’s Web site and use rate code “PRO.”

Aqua Hotels & Resorts is offering a “99 Days of Fall” special at 15 of its hotels on three islands. Rates start at $99 or less at 11 of the 12 Waikiki hotels (a savings of up to 60% off regular rates) and rates range from $129-$189 at the other three hotels (in Waikiki, Maui and Molokai), which represents savings of up to 50 percent per night.

Get more of Peter’s ideas for Beach Vacations here.

Pineapple plantDiscover Hidden Hawai‘i Tours’ is offering the “Hawai‘i 50th Anniversary Package” for $50 off the published price of $509.  The package includes admission to the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Missouri tour, a tour of the Dole Pineapple Plantation, an Ali‘i Lu‘au at the Polynesian Cultural Center, Hollywood movie and television set visits, and a trek to Volcano National Park on Hawai‘i’s Big Island. The package also includes airport transfers and roundtrip airfare between Honolulu and the Big Island. The package is valid until Dec. 31, 2009.  Reservations must be made online. Selecting the Hawai‘i
50th Anniversary Package and use promotional code “50Years.”

American Airlines is offering low fares to Lihue (Kauai) and Kona (on the “big island” of Hawaii) this fall from dozens of cities on the mainland. Sample fares include $257 each way from Phoenix to Lihue, and $299 from Tucson to Kona. Travel is valid now through September 24, 2009. Sale fares are valid Sunday through Friday.

By Karen Elowitt for

Related links: The Times (UK), Associated Press, USA Today, Honolulu Advertiser

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