Tourism experts: Hawaii can bounce back from negative publicity

Could a mysterious attack on Australian golfer Robert Allenby hurt Hawaii’s tourism industry?

The story is making international headlines, and it’s enough to raise concerns.

“The incident is a slap in the face to everyone who has worked hard to present a clean image of Hawaii and trying to clean up the streets,” said Rep. Tom Brower (D-Waikiki, Ala Moana), chair of the House tourism committee.

But Brower says a lot can be done to change the negative perception of Hawaii created by this incident.

“As long as we handle it the correct way, provide sunshine on law enforcement and community support on what happened, I think we can turn this around and make this, what could have been a failure, a big win for the state because this is where our true character comes in,” he said.

Brower points to the homeless woman who helped Allenby as an example, and says making sure that the suspects are caught and prosecuted will also go a long way.

Meanwhile, tourism officials are quick to point out that Hawaii is still a safe place to visit.

“This was an unfortunate incident, and anytime something like this involves a visitor to our islands, the Hawaii Tourism Authority takes the situation very seriously,” said David Uchiyama, vice president of brand management for Hawaii Tourism Authority. “It is also important to remember that this was an isolated incident, and Hawaii remains one of the safest travel destinations in the world.”

But officials also say that because this is such an unusual case, it’s harder to shake off the negative image it brings to Hawaii.

The Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, which helps tourists who have been victims of a crime on Oahu, has also reached out to Allenby.

“There is cause for concern that because Mr. Allenby was allegedly beat up,” said VASH president and executive director Jessica Lani Rich. “This can send a message out that Hawaii may not be a safe place to travel, but it’s a very safe place to travel and I think that our visitors anywhere in the world need to remember that.”

Rich says she tells all the visitors she helps that you can’t blame the entire state for the crime of a few.

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