Tourism Takes More Than Beauty

I’ve long been a proponent of synergy in our local economy, particularly in linking the strengths of the travel industry with businesses that complement and supplement it. One prime example is the film and television industry, which not only attracts outside revenue and creates jobs here, but showcases the beauty of our islands to millions of people across the globe.

When Hawaii’s film and TV industry is hot, as it is now, we see remarkable results. Last year alone was a record-breaker, with direct spending by production companies totaling more than $400 million and with a statewide economic impact of more than $600 million.

Among the high-profile movies and television shows filming in the Hawaiian Islands were the final season of Lost, a reborn Hawaii Five-0, Disney’s fourth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean, the fantasy adventure Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, a prospective blockbuster for 2012 called Battleship, Oscarwinning writer-director Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings and starring George Clooney, and Soul Surfer, a film based on Kaua’i’s Bethany Hamilton.

A production company creates hundreds of wellpaying jobs and purchases goods and services from a host of local companies. The cast and crew fill hotel rooms, often for extended periods. Lost, for example, had a full-time equivalent staff of 250 local folks and worked with 1,200 different businesses. Pirates booked thousands of hotel room nights during its stay on Kaua’i.

Every time the islands are shown in a movie theater or on TV, it’s an advertisement for Hawaii. The millions of people who will see Hawaii Five-0 or Pirates of the Caribbean all see beautiful images of the Islands. That’s invaluable, incalculable exposure for Hawaii.

I recall broaching the idea of having each county open a film office to promote the industry during my tenure as director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Little did we realize the impact this state-county synergy would have. Later, as a city councilman and Honolulu mayor, I worked closely with Honolulu film commissioner Walea Constantinau in supporting the industry. In particular, we understood the importance of personal relationships, of one-on-one talks with producers and movie studio executives to assure them of Hawaii’s interest in welcoming them to Hawaii. Whether we were meeting with studio chiefs and union officials in L.A., welcoming producers to City Hall, using Sunset on the Beach to promote the premiere of Lost or Hawaii Five-0, or participating in film festivals, our overriding goal was always to lure more productions.

The film industry is like tourism. It’s not a matter of “build it and they will come,” to use a line from Field of Dreams. We have to build upon the groundwork we’ve laid and expand the infrastructure, promote and support it because it’s a proven winner. With just about every state in the nation, not to mention other countries, competing for filmTV productions, we must be aggressive and committed in marketing ourselves. This is a fundamental part of doing business, and helped Hawaii keep its starring role in production after production. Now is not the time to rest on our laurels.

Naomi Refamonte

Position: Reservations Supervisor
Location: Kauai Marriott Resort

Difficult times for the hotel industry, accompanied by reduced hours for employees, have been tough on people like Naomi Refamonte, a reservations supervisor at Kaua’i Marriott Resort.

Despite the cutback in staffing hours, Naomi successfully supervised her two reservations agents, informed them of specials and changes, and kept the operation going even though the team rarely worked at the same time. When the cast and crew of Pirates of the Caribbean chose the Marriott, Naomi worked tirelessly to ensure the many reservations were correct, served as main point of contact for the film’s travel coordinator and accommodated requests at all hours of the day, even though she was working half time. So grateful was the film team that Naomi was invited to a private party for the cast and crew.

Weekends find Naomi at the soccer field or beach with her children, or actively engaged in charitable activities for the Children’s Miracle Network, Kapa’a Rotary and National Tropical Botanical Garden.