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      Home | Americas

      Islands may mend ties with nature

      China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-06-16 09:28

      Waikiki Beach is nearly empty due to the business downturn caused by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Honolulu, Hawaii, US, April 28, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

      WASHINGTON - Since the coronavirus emptied Hawaii of tourists, seals have been lounging on beaches, fish are swimming closer to shore and the turquoise water of the US islands' famous Hanauma Bay is 55 percent clearer, one marine biologist said.

      The pandemic has been devastating economically for Hawaii, whose $18-billion tourism industry employs more than 200,000 people, or about a third of the workforce. It is among the US states with the highest unemployment rate since March.

      As islands around the world grapple with similar challenges, some authorities see the pandemic as an opportunity for change. Before they open the floodgates to mass tourism again, some are questioning how much they want to go back to that model.

      "The path we were on prior to COVID wasn't sustainable," said Celeste Connors, executive director of Hawaii Green Growth, one of several United Nations hubs set up around the world to advance sustainable development locally.

      Hawaii has not yet set a date for reopening to tourists, nor has it announced any plans to limit visitors. But officials said they do want to make a shift, and the coronavirus may accelerate it.

      The pandemic could help small-scale tourism offerings thrive because they will be less risky for disease transmission than large resorts and attractions, said Kalani Kaanaana, director of cultural affairs and natural resources at the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

      Many island destinations, including Hawaii, were already discussing how to make tourism more sustainable before the novel coronavirus swept around the world this year.

      In the South Pacific, the Cook Islands were already planning a re-branding that would emphasize environmental stewardship.

      Coronavirus offers a good chance to make that transition, said Metua Vaiimene, the government's director of destination development.

      "We have resolved to use this opportunity to reset and refresh our tourism industry," Vaiimene said.

      Agencies via Xinhua

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