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.


Influencer invasion as Pakistan launches tourism push

Updated 24 April 2019
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Influencer invasion as Pakistan launches tourism push

  • Cricketer-turned-prime-minister Imran Khan is keen to promote the nation’s tourism potential
  • The push has resulted in an influx of foreign travel bloggers extolling the virtues of its mountains and beaches

ISLAMABAD: They are young, Western, and full of praise for Pakistan: Travel influencers have moved in on the “land of the pure,” but critics warn their rose-tinted filters are irresponsible and sell an inaccurate picture of the conservative, militancy-scarred country.
As security improves, cricketer-turned-prime-minister Imran Khan is keen to promote the nation’s tourism potential, with the government claiming it has eased visa restrictions for many foreign visitors.
The push has resulted in an influx of foreign travel bloggers extolling the virtues of its mountains and beaches, as well as its rich heritage and history, from ancient Indus civilizations to Buddhist shrines and Islamic monuments.
“Pakistan, it was the trip of a lifetime,” food and travel YouTuber Mark Wiens told his four million subscribers.
Polish blogger Eva zu Beck informed her followers it could “become the number one tourist destination in the world,” while Canadian social media influencer Rosie Gabrielle said she wanted her stories to “tell the truth” about the country.
But there are concerns influencer content does not reflect the major challenges, from infrastructure to extremism, that Pakistan is facing as it embraces modern tourism.
Zu Beck, whose clip was even shared by officials, cites government commerce initiative Emerging Pakistan, as well as Pakistan International Airlines as partners she’s worked with, while Wiens credits tourism expo Pakistan Travel Mart for “making the amazing trip happen.”
Gabrielle says her 3,500-kilometer motorcycle trip across the nation was facilitated by a Pakistani association in Oman.
Once seen as an essential stop on the hippie trail, visitor numbers have slumped since the 1970s when the country first underwent sweeping Islamization then descended into a bloody battle with militancy.
Deadly attacks still occur but security concerns are easing, so authorities and businesses are keen to shake the perception it is a hostile and dangerous place.
They are enthusiastic that so-called social media “influencer” advertising, which generally provides glossy snapshots rather than in-depth investigation, can present an alternative vision of Pakistan to a new generation of young and adventurous travelers.
“People believe them,” says Pakistan Travel Mart CEO Ali Hamdani, who helped set up Wiens trip, adding that bloggers’ impressions are regarded as “authentic.”
Yet Pakistanis and seasoned foreign travelers warn such posts on social media do not paint a full and honest picture of Pakistan.
Tourism infrastructure is severely underdeveloped, there are opaque government restrictions on places foreigners can visit, and travelers are often harassed — whether by men bothering women in a patriarchal society; or suspicious intelligence officials detaining curious sight-seers or insisting on security escorts.
“All this ‘Everything is wonderful in Pakistan’ is just irresponsible,” reveals June, an indignant 51-year-old Briton who declined to give her last name, she had been harassed by a police officer during a visit to the northwestern Swat valley.
Influencers are shielded from many issues that ordinary visitors face, adds Zara Zaman, an attendee at a recent tourism summit in Islamabad.
“All of these travelers are also traveling with crews and are protected by more powerful people,” she argues.
Hamdani, for example, acted as a driver for both Wiens and another influencer, Trevor James, during their visits, smoothing out any issues.
Zu Beck and Gabrielle, were able to visit the southwestern province of Balochistan — famed for its spectacular scenery, but also for violent insurgencies, which means few foreigners are able to visit without the blessing of intelligence agencies.
What influencers publish “doesn’t represent the real experience,” warns Alexandra Reynolds, an American blogger on her fifth trip to Pakistan, adding that there is a risk that less experienced travelers will be misled by such content and potentially end up in trouble.
“In a time when Pakistan’s international reputation is so fragile, it is not something that should be risked,” the 27-year-old explains, revealing that she too experienced harassment from security forces during a previous trip.
Another tourist Sebastiaan, 30, says he was detained for 14 hours and questioned by suspicious government agents in the southern city of Mithi last September.
There is also frustration from Pakistanis that Western bloggers have been feted by authorities, while locals with better cultural understanding — especially of sensitive issues such as gender or blasphemy — are sidelined.
“It kinds of makes me angry to have white people represent us. We are not completely done with our post-colonial hangover,” says Zaman.
At the tourism summit a group of the Western bloggers were widely photographed meeting Imran Khan, with no local travel influencers in sight, prompting a backlash on social media.
Despite concerns, the bloggers remain enthusiastic.
Zu Beck, 27, has gained a huge following in Pakistan, where a local phone company has sponsored some of her videos.
She insists: “My job is not to love Pakistan. My job is to make content. But I love Pakistan.”