Skip to main content

Sustainable Development: Whatever Happened to Hana?

Through a number of influential conferences in the 1970s and 1980s held by organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund, the UN Environmental Program, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), and the World Resources Institute, it became abundantly clear, especially from a Third World viewpoint, that no economic development would ever exhibit permanent and sustained viability unless the economy were linked with environment and society in a threefold, interactive development system.

Sustainable Development: Buzzword or Realistic Goal?

Although in the past several years numerous individuals and scholarly groups have worked with one or more of the following ideas applied to the total ecosystem, none has had greater impact than the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (Bruntland Report), which drew conclusions from worldwide hearings over a period of two years (WCED 1987). The report concluded that healthy development should be sustainable by focusing on a number of elements: integration, charted development, conservation, cultural compatibility and local input.

The Bruntland Commission is not the last word on sustainable development. History might, however, acknowledge it as the first great work of symbolic importance after which the notion started to take real form. The commission did not specifically refer to tourism; it didn't have to. All its concerns have been highlighted by tourism writers at one time or another. Few writers have written about tourism in the integrated manner outlined above, however, and very few tourism managers or developers have thought along these lines. That many more will do so in the future seems inevitable.

Hana, Maui, Hawaii

For two decades I have watched development in Hawaii and especially tourism in Maui County. Most of this tourism, although outstandingly successful in the tourist world, is a far cry from sustainable development. Usually local people had limited input on tourism decisions. Areas which had risen in value became out of their purchase range. The environment and local culture became secondary considerations. The time frame for most individual operators was strictly limited. There was little if any direct integration of farming and tourism. Out of this context came a quite different, innovative development at Hana.

Hana, in a relatively remote corner of southeastern Maui, embraces one of only a few truly Hawaiian ethnic enclaves left on the island. The community is rural, unsophisticated in comparison with urban Hawaii, and dependent largely on one corporate employer, the Rosewood Corporation of Dallas, Texas. It is a place without sensational tourist attractions but with enjoyable scenery and exceedingly pleasant and unique local people. The site is not waterfront, but the ocean is clearly visible and one can swim or picnic at two seaside secluded gems, Hamoa and Lehoua beaches, the former accessible to the public. Visitors can trail-ride on ranch horses, observe the low-input agricultural methods used on the land, reflect in lush tropical gardens, or shoot recently stocked pheasant or hunt pigs. Guests, if they so choose, are left to their own devices and have upscale hotel attention. It is by no means conventional resort tourism.

Alternative Management

During the early part of the century, cane sugar ruled the Hana community. In 1945 an ailing industry and retrenchment saw C. Brewer and Company's Kaeleku mill close (Jokiel 1988:45), and the sugar lands were sold to wealthy San Franciscan, Paul Fagan. Tourism, previously unknown here, saved the day when Fagan built a small hotel, sold land to easterners down the coast, and constructed a small airport. The operation, more of a hobby than a for-profit enterprise, developed a clientele of affluent people from around the world.

These guests, loyal and wealthy, enjoyed the low-key Hana experience and stayed for long periods, many insisting on the same rooms each time they returned. From 1968 for the next 16 years, the Hana Ranch Company ran the operation in an unremarkable manner until an effort was made to reactivate the early Hana hotel tradition.

During the 1970s the county's mayor, Cravalho, made it perfectly clear that development, which was rampant elsewhere on Maui, would not touch Hana's soil. The need for this policy is obvious. The predominantly Hawaiian community has long been considered special, and its vulnerability today is greater than every; up to 2,000 cars and tour vans a day crawl along the narrow, winding road from Kahului, Maui's main commercial center through Hana to the falls and cascades of Seven Pools and Ohéo Gulch. Some people stop for gas or food, bringing a constant reminder to residents of the long-term threat of heightened tourism and the short-term commercial potential for Hana itself. But the traffic could increase tenfold if a new highway were built to Hana from Maui's western-shore tourist region over the relatively easy terrain of the south shore where a jeep road already exists. To attempt to protect one area while encouraging development in another creates a planning nightmare. But with the population growing and tourism increasing elsewhere on Maui, such a road seems inevitable.

Enter Rosewood

In the early 1980s, after battles with the community over its plans to expand and upgrade its facilities, the Hana Ranch Company sold its holdings to the Rosewood Corporation, which was owned by the Caroline Hunt Trust Estate. The corporation is active in oil, gas, venture capital, real estate, and tourism. "We believe in a very small market and in very small hotels to give guests the very highest level of service in surroundings impeccable dignified." So says Robert Zimmer, president of Rosewood Hotels.

With the initial $20 million purchase price, the corporation bought the 4,500-acre Hana Ranch, Hana Water Resources, Hana Water Company, Hana Maui Transport Company, Hana Land Company, Hana Pacific, Inc., Zen at Hana Ranch (horticulture), Hana Ranch Ltd., and Hana Stockers Company. The present operation employs close to 400 people out of a total estimated population of 2,000.

By all accounts Hana was impressed by the new owners. But past experience ensured some barely suppressed distrust for nay owner. A celebrity clientele was nothing new to the town, but to have one of the world's very wealthy women, Caroline Rose Hunt, buy into its future and "fall in love with the community" made an impression. This immediately suggested to many long-term stability without the imperative for immediate operational profitability. But certainly not all people were convinced. Financial stability and genuine long-term concern for a community seem to be necessary ingredients for winning local support, and in an isolated and extraordinary area such as Hana, you go nowhere without the community behind you.

After an estimated $24 million was spent on renovations, the Hotel Hana Maui at the Hana Ranch, without doubt the anchor unit, today lives up to the copywriters' rich prose. It is small (61 rooms soon to expand to a maximum of 108), low-rise, and elegant, and despite the tariff of $350-$700 and up a night, the psychological barriers to local people drinking at the bar or using the restaurant are as low as they can be while still maintaining the stated goals of elegance and dignity.

Nearby in he small Hana Ranch Center is a bank, associated development and ranch officers, and a moderately priced public restaurant - all in embryonic form now. Virtually all commercial land in the area is owned by the corporation except a lot next to the very old Wananalua Church. Twenty local families have enthusiastic plans to create here a Hawaiian marketplace - a necessary local, cultural-commercial expression in an area dominated by single, non Hawaiian, non-island ownership.

Upon Rosewood's purchase of the ranch, two major changes took place. Dallas determined that the cattle operation should be chemical free and run on agro-ecological lines, and that its operation and that of the hotel should be interlinked so that each would support the other. These were only two of a wide range of ideas to be put into operation, which the president of Rosewood Hotel's Robert Zimmer called a holistic approach.

A Holistic Approach

In Hana's first four years of existence, a loosely formulated rather than a more focused philosophy set Hana apart from other tourist management. Robert Zimmer's sweeping vision was covered widely in the Hawaiian media, and in June 1987 it was revised and presented in detail to the community in the form of an information package. After several years of construction, at which time members of the community assert they were overrun by Texan workers who, having no place to live, filled all available buildings and sent rentals sky high, Rosewood explained that "they would like to renew communication with the Hana Community" (emphasis added). Said Zimmer in a 1988 address:

We refocused on the interconnectedness of Hana, its land, natural beauty, people, heritage, history and visitors which enabled us to re-align our holistic approach to development and tourism in this most special of places.

Through revision of our development plans and operational standards we dedicated ourselves to maintain life in balance. To create a total quality experience for out guests while creating an environment of continued conservation, renewal and growth; preserving the heritage and natural beauty of this unique Hawaiian community and obtaining financial viability .... Recognizing the environmental impact of the development plans proposed we drew a revised land use plan that called for a minimum of development and at the risk of increased misunderstanding called a meeting of the entire community to announce its every detail.

This is the June 1987 meeting he refers to, and it launched some misunderstandings, especially among those who perceived the action as vacillation.

Rosewood's information package offered an array of good things: preservation of environment, historical values, and culture; increased job opportunities; improvement of the town center; affordable housing; subdivisions, scholarships, and work study programs; and the provision of cooperative land use projects in agriculture.

Dr. George Kanahele was retained to work with management in Project Kináole, a program designed to introduce - or reintroduce - employees to regional lore and legends, renew indigenous values, and promote personal security through traditional practices in a somewhat strange business environment. Making good some of the corporate promises, Rosewood provided a grant of $50,000 to the Hana Cultural Center, $2,500 for scholarships at the high school, and $10,000 to the day care center.

Various projects outlined at the June 1987 meeting have been implemented, started, or, at least, as is the case with the affordable housing subdivision, discussed and planned. A special covenant guaranteeing residents - but not the general public - shoreline access and possibly mountain access has been in discussion for more than a year.

Public Reaction

Understandably, such a small community's reactions will range from positive enthusiasm to skepticism. One person suggested the holistic approach only appeared after the public outcry about the impact of the construction workers. This outcry, coupled with the fear that a deep-seated way of life could be disappearing, and amplified inordinately in a small community, must have had planners and managers honing their strategies and working the drawing boards overtime in preparation for the 1987 policy statement.

Such a novel and unanticipated project must naturally engender defensiveness. The Maui model of what Hana could turn into was just down the road. A thriving hotel, if it were to become such, was fine and hundreds of jobs were welcomed, but how long could it last? Wouldn't perceived cost overruns mean a mortgaged ranch, less benign partnerships, a sell-off of land in a area the community wanted preserved, a sale of the complete operation to a conventional buyer, or worse still, maybe "those aggressive consumers of US real estate," the Japanese? Some felt that the situation could not last. The social environment was characterized by optimism, ambivalence, and distrust.

There are those who feel the affordable housing projects is developing too slowly, but his sort of criticism will always necessarily be present. The community will never be completely satisfied with Rosewood, nor will it be privy to confidential information affecting its future. Rosewood, in turn, is sure to feel that its efforts are not appreciated and that a community such as Hana could never understand the corporate priorities inherent in the financing of such a project. How many in the community, for example, are aware of the recent slump in the Texas economy and how its repercussions might eventually relate to Hana?

How Sustainable Is Hana Development?

If Maui as a whole is not sustainable - even if one can point to innovations in this area - Hana is really something else. Without the slightest doubt, the greatest resource for tourism is Hana and its community. All other resources listed are found elsewhere in Hawaii. Ironically for Hawaii - and few see it this way - the essence of Hana is its very friendly, simple, intact Hawaiian community, a decided rarity in the Hawaiian islands today. The local people made Hana; it is theirs. Rosewood capitalizes on this fact, providing most of the economic base for its existence and unusual management. A friendly community is the crux of successful tourism for Hana, and friendship cannot be bought; it must be earned by visitors and Rosewood alike.

Rosewood has done many admirable things. It probably meets the test, to some degree, in many elements of sustainability. However, the corporation, though skilled in the tourism business, is a neophyte in the area of sustainable development. Who isn't ? Rosewood was constantly learning, making mistakes, reorienting values, and changing procedures to meet and accommodate new conditions. Virtually everything critics believe could happen, could happen. Once firmly established, however, sustainable development would be difficult to stop, its rewards - in theory at least - being so obvious. Although the idea of sustainable development has been around for some time, it is very new in the tourism paradigm.

Zimmer left Rosewood in early 1989 and is now a consultant to the tourism industry. Hopefully the philosophy he propounded is so deeply embedded it does not depend on one person. There's always a bottom line in tourism, and some type of financial failure could easily impact Hana. Rosewood is under no obligation, legal or otherwise, to continue its sustainable development. It could slip back into high-class short-term conventionality tomorrow.

There certainly appears to be a need for further community input. In February 1988 the Hana community Association, in a letter to the Rosewood Corporation, suggested "the clear need to be in more regular and professional communication with Rosewood on its development plans and the effects these plans have on the community." Better still, the community, while meeting regularly with the corporation, could, through representation in the directorate, be obligated to shoulder a share of responsibility with Rosewood in a cooperative venture. Hana is only on the first rungs of the sustainability ladder.

Rosewood and the community have done well. What they are embarking on could be a pioneering venture of monumental importance. Both need to work hard to bring the project to fruition and to prove that sustainable development in tourism is possible.


At the end of June 1989 I visited Dallas to talk to Rosewood's corporate executives. Thus far I had talked to mostly enthusiastic company officers at Hana, who seemed happy to be part of the Hana experiment and had been exceedingly cooperative and forthcoming, as had the many community members who wanted no more than a successful development at the existing scale. With Robert Zimmer gone, I needed to update my own perceptions of Rosewood's philosophical directions.

In Dallas I was treated courteously but denied a meeting with the new president of Rosewood Hotels. Attempts to discuss sustainable development under any name drew polite but minimal response. I was nonplused. Was Zimmer's act too difficult to follow or far too difficult to bother with in the fast-paced business world? Was it just too difficult to maintain a worthwhile communication between the two paradigms - conventional and novel, or academic and business? Had there always been a disparity between Zimmer, the philosophical president of Rosewood Hotels, and executives of the larger Rosewood corporation who were willing to give him his way but felt it nevertheless necessary to rein in the hotel division?

In September 1989, shocked but not completely surprised, I learned that Rosewood had sold all its Hana operations to a Japanese resort company, Sekitei Kaihatsu, for $102 million. I also learned that, unknown to the community, Rosewood had made extensive surveys and was building infrastructure in terms of water reticulation and storage, as well as roading, for uses well beyond those at present. A later release names the new investors conjointly as Keola Hana, Maui, Inc., headed by real estate interests in Japan, a British businessman, and several Hawaiian business investors.

The Rosewood Corporation recently sold an ailing hotel at a loss in Houston and the Bel Aire in Los Angeles. Now, with the Hotel Hana Maui gone and with talk of spinning off half of the Crescent complex in Dallas, that would leave very little. Was Rosewood getting out of the hotel business?

Local people said, "they lied to us all along." The low-cost housing, the covenants for access, had all gone by the board. Now community members were expecting conflict and possible layoffs. They felt completely let down and were again raising old complaints - homes housing 15-20 people, rentals up to $1,000, construction workers paid only half of union scale, lack of access - all, they alleged, due to Rosewood's insensitivity. After the initial blast, all I could think of was Robert Zimmer's words in 19684, "Hana, this special place, must be respected, protected and preserved," and the words of one of his close associates who, only recently, told me, "People used to say to Bob, `Why on earth do you do all these things for the community? You don't have to.' `Because,' said Bob, `The people of Hana deserve it.'"

Readers must draw their own conclusions. In the scheme of present-day situations there very well may have been good reasons for every step between purchase and sale. Many people in Hana, however, are hurt and angry. It looks as though the community has once more suffered from the trauma of development. Because I have not had time to verify the new information and its ramifications, I stand by my prepostscript statement. Irrespective of what happened in late 1989, or the fact that some or many pieces must be picked up, Rosewood went into 1989 with an innovative four years under its belt. Other small places like Hana might very well find themselves in a somewhat similar position and could learn much form Hana's experience.

Lessons To Be learned

Sustainable development is a broad-based process. It should not depend on the beneficence of one person or one company, or the vision of one leader. All components of the development system are equally important; the community and government (local, state, or national) must work hard to keep the balance and prevent an ultimate debacle. The community could work full time on covenants and contracts ensuring responsible cooperative contributions for concessions made by tourism managers. Some ingenious way might be found for such covenants to travel with the title in perpetuity so that the community is not cultivating the same ground every few years.

Local government, if this is the responsible policy-making body, might understand that it owes much more to the community than a blandly worded regional plan and an occasional pat on the head in the form of naming community members to advisory committees. Government should understand that communities, with all the best intentions in the world, have tough row to hoe; tourism developers can mount the most sophisticated teams money can buy. If the community and the government do not keep the players in balance d tension, the development system will always be skewed toward short-term economics and the developer and away from the long-term interests of culture and environment. When this happens, the tourist component will lose in the long run.

The path for the industry is as difficult as that for the community. The short-term ethos of business always suggests that if the going gets tough then a remedy - through profit-taking - is called for. But isn't now the time to think of the long-term social and environmental costs too - not to mention the distinct possibility of long-term economic gains? Tourism operatives, trained and skilled in a paradigm whose sights have become narrow, seldom look toward people other than those in the market, and find it difficult to break the confines of the business culture of which they are part.

Knowledgeable readers can help. Protest and criticism is valueless in a game in which none of the players yet knows the rules, much less the game. We can as catalysts in devising strategies to bring opposing paradigms together. To do this, intimacy with all participating cultures is necessary. Trust has to be generated. All parties have to develop an understanding of the substantial long-term payoffs, and eventually reach formulas for a mutually rewarding way of doing business together.

Sustainable development is no flaky dream. It is appearing in many a legislature and virtually every country, and no industry could benefit more than tourism. It is no surprise that in a 1989 report for the British government, University of London professor of economics David Pearce found that after years of talk by his profession to the contrary, a value could be computed for qualitative elements such as culture and environment. Industry managers should take note. Nowhere does the price of these two "commodities" come higher than in tourism.


Grateful acknowledgment is made to the University of California for assistance toward a large project on sustainability, of which this paper is a part; top the people of Hana; to members of the Hana Community Association; to officers and employees of the Rosewood Corporation; and to good friends in Hana.


de Jetley, A

1988 Town Report: Heavenly Hana Going to Hell? The Mauian (April/May): 52-57.

Jokiel, L.

1988 Holding on to Hana. Hawaii Business (May): 42-53.

Pearce, D., A. Markyanda, and E., Barbier

1989 Blueprint for a Green Economy. London: Earthscan Publications.

WCED (World Commission on Environment and Development)

1987 Our Common Future. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Zimmer R.D.

1988 Hana, Maui, Hawaii: A Holistic Approach Toward Tourism. Paper presented to the First Global Conference, Tourism - A Vital Force For Peace.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

Our website houses close to five decades of content and publishing. Any content older than 10 years is archival and Cultural Survival does not necessarily agree with the content and word choice today.