Creation of Honolulu urban trail part of $14 million tourism recovery plan

·6 min read

May 25—The Hawaii Tourism Authority is working on a plan to spend $14 million in-era federal funding from the Economic Development Administration that includes development of a Honolulu urban trail that would use virtual reality and other smart features to connect people to points of interest and businesses along the path.

HTA Chief Administrative Officer Keith Regan said the funding is part of COVID-era grants to states through the Economic Development Administration's American Rescue Plan Act funds to support travel, tourism and outdoor recreation. Regan said HTA officials have been working to develop a grant administration plan since August when Gov. David Ige designated HTA as an agency to receive and expend the EDA funds, with about half going to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

"We are about ready to submit the required Grant Administration Plan to EDA for their review and approval. Once approved, we will be able to move forward with the projects, " Regan said.

Regan, who discussed the plan during HTA's Budget, Finance and Convention Center Standing Committee meeting on Tuesday, said the grant is eligible to fund projects "that support the economic recovery of the travel, tourism and outdoor recreation sectors."

HTA's plan includes spending $750, 000 of the EDA money to develop a Honolulu urban trail, which will start at the state Capitol district and wind through the downtown business district and the waterfront district before ending in Chinatown.

Regan said HTA staff put together the conceptual plan for the Honolulu urban trail, an economic revitalization experience that he compared to Boston's Freedom Trail.

Built in 1951, Boston's Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile walk leading to 16 historic sites. According to the Freedom Trail's website, more than 4 million people visit the trail annually where they discover the story of the American Revolution and its aftermath by visiting a collection of museums, churches, meetinghouses, burying grounds, parks, a ship and historic markers.

"We're looking at an opportunity to do something very similar (to the Freedom Trail ) here in downtown Honolulu, " Regan said. "If you've ever had a chance to walk around downtown Honolulu, you'll notice that there are some very significant sites that exist and that are important to the history of Hawaii and of Honolulu.

"We felt it would be a great opportunity to develop an urban trail that would lead visitors and, quite frankly, residents on an experience where they can learn about the history of Honolulu, of Hawaii, and at the same time where they can also interact and engage with local businesses along the route."

Regan said HTA would use traditional and virtual signage to keep hikers on the right path. He envisions using augmented reality to educate hikers about history and to show them how points of interest once looked.

Regan said HTA anticipates issuing a request for proposals for the Honolulu urban trail project as soon as the grant administration plan is approved by EDA.

"The Honolulu urban trail concept is inspired by, and delivers on, several action items in the Oahu Destination Management Action Plan (DMAP ), including the development of new collaborative, curated recreational experiences to ease the burdens on sites already heavily used by visitors and residents, " he said.

HTA Planning Director Caroline Anderson told the HTA committee that the EDA plan aims to support the DMAPs by implementing steps that the community, the visitor industry and other sectors deem necessary to improve tourism over the next several years.

HTA developed the Oahu DMAP in partnership with the City and County of Honolulu and the community. The Oahu DMAP has been published on HTA's website, .

Decreasing the number of visitors to Oahu to a manageable level by controlling the number of visitor accommodations and exploring changes to land use, zoning and airport policies is the top anchor action in the Oahu DMAP.

Establishing a regenerative tourism fee, creating reservation systems for natural and cultural sites, managing visitors' use of cars and expanding and supporting "Buy Local " programs also were key actions.

The plan also hopes to attract more respectful visitors by implementing a pre-and post-arrival communication program and developing marketing programs to attract "positive-­impact travelers who prioritize the environment, culture and investing in our local community."

Similar plans also have been developed and approved for Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island.

Anderson said HTA wants to use $750, 000 of the EDA money to provide training and resources to communities that seek to steward lands and to work with communities to develop strategies to shape tourism in a sustainable way and create new or enhance experiences or products.

HTA Chief Branding Officer Kalani Ka 'ana 'ana told the HTA committee that he plans to spend $4 million of the money on a "tourism recovery " branding and education campaign geared to visitors who might not book until this fall for travel in 2022 or beyond.

"If we want mindful visitors who spend at an appropriate level, we need to let them know that we'd like them to visit, " Ka 'ana 'ana said. "We also need to educate all visitors on how to be mindful."

Regan said HTA's partner DLNR plans to use $7.2 million in EDA funding to address other DMAP goals on Oahu and the neighbor islands.

DLNR proposes to conduct a statewide trail capacity study and work on statewide signage, branding and trailhead bio-sanitation plans. It wants to purchase equipment and educational supplies for DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officials.

It is discussing a Waikiki Snorkel Restoration Trail and making recreational trail improvements across Oahu.

DLNR wants to improve the recreational trailhead and access road for the Kula Forest Reserve on Maui and for the Koaia Tree Sanctuary and Corridor Trails on Hawaii island.

It has parking lot and recreational improvements planned for the Awa 'awa ­puhi Trail, and trail repairs and improvements planned for the Hawaii Valley of the Lost Tribes vista trail on Kauai.

A day-use mooring buoy program is on the list. DLNR also is talking about creating an app called Play Pono Points which encourages use of resources and positive behavioral changes.

It has proposed funding for an interpretive plan for Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, a 175-mile-long trail network on Hawaii island that traverses through the coast and ancient Hawaiian settlement sites.

DLNR also supports the Na Manu 'Elele Land steward program, which it has said would "provide temporary work and training opportunities utilizing local stewards to assist in interpreting the historic nature, natural history, and safety concerns of sensitive natural areas as well as mitigate unwanted behaviors and ensure safety."