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Dr. George R. Harker/ Maui, Hawaii

The closing of Kaloko-Honokohau beach to clothing optional use presents a rare opportunity to assess the economic impact of a nude beach.

Hawaii is a state whose economy is so significantly tied to tourism that changes in opportunities for tourist can have a profound effect.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) keeps track of visitors coming and going to Hawaii.  The data is tracked for each island in the Hawaiian chain. It is also differentiated into westbound and east bound traffic. Therefore it is possible to drop out of the analysis the impact of declining visitations from Japan.

In January 1999 the variables affecting travel to the different Hawaiian islands of Oahu, Maui, Hawaii (Big Island), and Kauai'i were about the same with the notable exception of closing Honokohau beach to nude use on Hawaii (Big Island). Visitations of west bound travels showed an increase on all the island with the exception of Oahu and Hawaii. (Police were making arrest on Oahu for nude bathing in 1998-1999.)

A conservative analysis of the data shows a decline in west bound visitors of 4% for January 1999. In actual number of visitors that translates to 2,873 in the month.

Now what is a visitor worth? Taking the figures provided by the HTA i.e. the gross expenditures for all tourism in 1998 of $11.594 billion and divide this by the number of visitors given by HTA of 6,738,220 in 1998. The average value of a visitor is $1,700. Of course this is just a superficial dollar amount and does not get into the so called multiplier effect of a tourist dollar on the local economy. Nevertheless, the figure is useful for our purposes.

The lost revenue from the 2,873 visitors that didn't come to the island of Hawaii in January 1999 is $4,941,904 or essentially five million dollars. Assuming for convenience that this figure is representative of a typical month the annual loss to the economy of the island of Hawaii is about $60 million.

It is interesting to note that the Hawaii Travel Authority recognizes that "sun and surf" is a big part of its economy and yet is openly hostile to nude bathing. Mid level bureaucrats contend and some  individuals claiming to speak for local Hawaiians claim that nudity is contrary to the culture of the Hawaiian islands. Indeed this concept was used to bring about the rule prohibiting nude sunbathing at Honokohau by the National Park Service. Anyone with even a modicum of familiarity with the culture of Hawaii knows such a position is ludicrous and no further discussion of the issue from this perspective will be pursued here.

Paradoxically, while efforts were being made to destroy a very significant component of the economy, the governor and others were soliciting the tv show "Baywatch" to come to the islands. Getting "Baywatch" to Hawaii was expected to pump $20 million  per year into the economy. (Note that whatever it brings to the economy it will be Oahu that will benefit and it will have little if any effect on the neighbouring islands.)

Some will argue that comparing the attraction of "Baywatch" and clothing optional beaches is like comparing melons and peaches. Perhaps a better analogy is like comparing augmented mangoes with organically grown papayas. In one setting the female human form is wrapped with a skin tight swimsuit and in the other the body is unadorned.

Of course this has nothing to do with the attraction of "Baywatch" to a vast viewing audience. Most everyone is aware that it is the intellectual content of the clever dialogue associated with the show that is the attraction rather than the augmented physique of the female lifeguards clad in skin-tight bathing suites dashing through the surf at the beginning, middle and end of the show.

Gov. Ben Cayetano got involved with others to facilitate bringing "Baywatch" to Hawaii. This was done not just for humanitarian reasons but because Hawaii needs the money. It will be interesting to see if the Governor and the Hawaiian Tourist Authority will do anything to bring traditional and culturally correct ocean bathing back to the Hawaiian islands. One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist, indeed even members of the HTA should be able to recognize the significant impact of sixty million dollars on the Big Island Economy.  If they need help understanding the local impact they should talk to bed and breakfast operators on the Big Island. They better than most know the value of a nude beach in the local economy.

--Writer Dr. George R. Harker can be reached by email at drleisure1@aol.com.

Article may be reproduced with appropriate credit: drleisure.com

To cite this article in a footnote, Dr.Leisure recommends the following format:

George R. Harker, "What is the Value of a Nude Beach?," Dr.Leisure Online Edition, http://www.DrLeisure.com/NudeBeach.html, September 15, 2000

Copyright 2000, Dr. Leisure

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