Surfing new waves in Hawaii
by Tyler Brûlé Financial Times February 18 2011
How many times over the course of the week do you encounter a person you’d like to give a good talking to and from time to time a good shake? How often do you interact with a business and feel like giving them a year’s worth of free, fresh management consulting? And with what frequency do you land in a city and get so excited by all the overlooked opportunities that you immediately start looking for office space and a plot of land on which to build that little compound you’ve been sketching in your head for years?
Last week I touched down in Honolulu for a few days of sun and scouting with Mats and my colleague Noriko in tow from Tokyo and Mom and dear friend Lisa inbound from Canada. Having visited a year earlier I was keen to see how the city was faring with its new routes to Tokyo’s Haneda airport, expanded services to Seoul, a stronger yen and a somewhat bubblier US economy.
It didn’t really seem anyone was in a great rush to pull out the paint and scrub-brushes for the arrival of the world’s media, business chiefs and heads of state for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum meetings in November. At Honolulu’s wonderful, breezy, open-to-the-elements airport there’s little to suggest this is a city that wants to be in the same league as the likes of Seoul, Sydney and Osaka.
Mention Honolulu airport to general managers of local hotels, people in government and airline chiefs and you get a similar response – a sharp intake of breath, a bewildered blink and then a shrug of frustration. They’ll tell you that it’s an “enormous issue that needs tackling”; “something of an embarrassment given the importance of tourism”; and “a perfect mirror of the islands it serves”. It doesn’t take too much analysis to make sense of the latter point. With its near-perfect weather, its solid if tatty infrastructure, its proximity to the west coast and Asia’s main cities and its bulging military population, Hawaii is what you might diplomatically call comfortable but could more accurately label complacent.