Activists delay rebirth of Hawaii hotel with Elvis ties

People supporting the occupants of the Coco Palms property in Wailua on the island of Kauai in Hawaii link hands in solidarity as the deadline for the court-imposed order vacating the property approaches in this January photo. (The Garden Island via AP)
Updated 16 February 2018
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Activists delay rebirth of Hawaii hotel with Elvis ties

HONOLULU: Developers rebuilding a storied, hurricane-ravaged Hawaii hotel with a Hollywood connection were looking forward to the Coco Palms’ rebirth when two men showed up last year, claiming to own the property because they descend from King Kaumualii, the last ruler of Kauai.
The men set up camp in tents and at the old tennis pro shop at the shuttered resort, where Elvis Presley’s character got married in the 1961 film “Blue Hawaii.” Hurricane Iniki forced its closure in 1992.
“They simply just showed up and started squatting,” said Chad Waters, one of the partners of Coco Palms Hui, the company leading the redevelopment.
Police were called, trespassing citations were written, and a judge last month issued an order to evict them.
Since then, a stream of protesters has come and gone, with some days just a few demonstrators and others dozens camped out at the resort near an ancient Hawaiian fishpond in the community of Wailua.
It’s the latest example of Native Hawaiian activists taking a stand on cultural issues and sacred places, such as challenging a giant telescope planned for a Hawaiian mountain and blocking the US military from using an uninhabited Hawaiian island as a live-fire testing site.
The protest also comes amid continued activism by indigenous groups across the US, who have rallied over issues ranging from sports mascots to environmental causes such as the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines.
Attempts to reach the two men in the Coco Palms case — Noa Mau-Espirito and Charles Hepa — by phone and online for comment were unsuccessful. However, Mau-Espirito last year told The Garden Island newspaper: “We have title to the land. We’re not camping. Our goal is to get all the families who have royal patents in Wailua back on their land.”
The judge disagreed with the men, ruling their claims don’t give them the right to occupy the property.
For Kaukaohu Wahilani, who flew from his home on Oahu to Kauai to support Mau-Espirito and others, it’s about standing up to the wrongs committed against Hawaiians — all the way back to the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom 125 years ago.
“That was the place of kings, that was the place of alli,” he said, using the Hawaiian word for ruler or royalty. “It was a sacred place, and it still is.”
He and other Native Hawaiians want the area called by its traditional name, Wailuanuiahoano.
At least 50 protesters gathered at the site, bracing for law enforcement action, as the judge’s 6 p.m., Jan. 28, deadline to leave the property approached. But no police showed up, and the protesters remained.
“I was kind of hoping (police) would have showed up at 6 because we had a lot of people there,” said Wahilani, a Native Hawaiian activist who considers himself a subject of the Hawaiian kingdom.
Last month, the defendants filed a document stamped the “Hawaiian Judiciary Court of the Sovereign,” saying the judge in the Coco Palms case needs to surrender to law enforcement or face “immediate arrest.” In court documents, Judge Michael Soong called the filing nonsensical “legalistic gibberish.”
Five to 10 people have been at the property this week, Waters said.
He and his partner requested help from state sheriffs.
Toni Schwartz, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety, said only that the sheriffs are working toward a resolution with the property owner, Kauai police and the protesters. “For safety and security reasons, we are not at this time, free to discuss any strategies that may be utilized in any related enforcement action,” Schwartz said in a statement.
Demolition began in 2016, with the goal of reopening in mid-2018. The clash has caused delays, so the developers hope start construction soon after the protesters leave, Waters said.
The renovated hotel will have 350 rooms, including 22 master suites and about 50 junior suites. Hyatt will manage the hotel once it’s reopened.
Wailua was the political center of Kauai long before the resort opened in 1953 and Presley’s character crooned the “Hawaiian Wedding Song” while holding his bride’s hand and boarding a raft to cross a lagoon.
It’s where chiefs were born and lived, said Lilia Merrin, a teaching assistant at the University of Hawaii’s Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies. Because of its high amount of surface water, it was ideal for loi, irrigated fields for farming the starchy vegetable taro, a staple crop, she said.
Growing up in Wailua, Merrin knew of Coco Palms mostly as the hotel where family friends worked in service jobs before the hurricane. She learned about its Hawaiian significance in college. “If we understand these places, we can better protect them,” she said.
Coco Palms Hui has planned since 2014 to set aside land at the resort for a community nonprofit that will offer lessons in Hawaiian culture, including hula, lei making, Hawaiian language and ukulele.
The nonprofit also will provide hotel workers with a guide about Hawaiian culture and the historic Wailua area. The fishponds and lagoons are on the state historic registry and will be preserved.
Tyler Greene, the other partner of Coco Palms Hui, has said the resort will help the island by supporting “healthy and vibrant activity for both the residents and visitors,” according to The Garden Island.
The Coco Palms fight was inspired by what passionate protesters accomplished against the Thirty Meter Telescope, which they said would desecrate sacred Mauna Kea, Wahilani said.
Construction stopped in 2015 after 31 demonstrators were arrested on the mountain for blocking the work. A second attempt to restart construction ended with more arrests and crews retreating.
The project is now tied up in legal battles.
“Mauna Kea brought us together, and since then we’ve done amazing things,” Wahilani said.


Saudi tourism sector in the spotlight at Arabian Travel Market

Updated 22 April 2018
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Saudi tourism sector in the spotlight at Arabian Travel Market

  • Kingdom developing tourism sector as part of economic diversification strategy
  • Vision 2030 foresees 1.2 million new tourist jobs by 2030

It is the leading global event for Middle Eastern tourism and it opens on Sunday in Dubai. The Arabian Travel Market attracts the big players of the industry and the wannabes. It showcases 2,800 products to more than 28,000 potential buyers and generates deals worth more than $2.5 billion.

No wonder the world wants to be there, from spas to safaris, from Armenia to Zanzibar and all points between in both the globe and the alphabet.

But this year, one destination is set to attract more attention than any other: Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom’s tourism industry has hitherto centered primarily on the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah; last year’s Hajj attracted around 2.35 million pilgrims, with about 1.75 million of those coming from abroad.

When it comes to non-religious tourism however, it is in the unique position of creating that industry more or less from scratch, which is an enviable place to be.

“It means we are able to learn from the mistakes of others and we can take the best from everywhere,” said Amr Al-Madani, CEO of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia’s archaeological treasure house and home to the Unesco-listed Madain Saleh.

“And we are determined to offer the best in every way,” he added.

Al-Madani recently returned from presenting the plans for Al-Ula at a high-profile gala at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, an occasion that coincided with the visit of Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, the driving force behind Vision2030, the ambitious program designed to revamp not only the national economy but Saudi society as a whole.

Once regarded as practically off-limits to visitors and particularly Westerners (although that was never true), Saudi Arabia is throwing open the gates, as part of plans to diversify its economy and create jobs for its citizens.

The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic development plan, designed to create new revenue streams to lower its reliance on oil, envisages the creation of 1.2 million new jobs in the tourism sector by 2030.

Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority in February said it planned to invest $64 billion in its entertainment sector in the coming 10 years. This investment will include the development of a countrywide network of cinemas, following the lifting of a ban last year.

As well as opening up the 5,000-year-old wonders of Al-Ula, there are plans to develop 34,000 square kilometers of Red Sea coastline and 50 outlying islands into luxury beach resorts.

The scheme has already attracted Sir Richard Branson, founder and boss of the Virgin Group, as its first international investor. He is involved in developing the islands — which he described as “breathtakingly beautiful” — as luxury destinations, and has also visited Madain Saleh.

“This is an incredibly exciting time in the country’s history and I’ve always felt that there is inothing like getting a first-hand impression,” he said after his visit.

He praised the Crown Prince for his vision, telling Arab News, “If you want to succeed you should have an idea and a plan to implement it and just do it. He is doing that and his heart is in the right place.”

Though he is overseeing the development of the Al-Ula sites, Amr Al-Madani said one plan was to offer two-center holidays: “Some days exploring the archaeology and the nature in Al-Ula and then a few days relaxing at the beach,” he said.

As well as unspoilt beaches, the Red Sea coast also enjoys the best climate in Saudi Arabia with pleasant sea breezes offsetting the heat.

The Red Sea project is expected to generate 35,000 jobs.

The Royal Commission has already recruited the first 200 future employees who will work in Al-Ula. The group — half boys, half girls — are all high school-leavers or university students from the region. They have already begun three months of training in Riyadh, learning languages and undergoing assessment by psychologists and careers advisers and will later be dispatched to several locations in Britain and the US to continue learning.

Al-Madani said Al-Ula should be ready to receive its first tourists in three to five years, eventually accommodating a million to 1.5 million a year.