Straddling Paradigms: Redistribution of Wealth Through Grassroots Capitalism

A friend recently told me I “straddle paradigms.” Never thought of it that way but my wordsmith friend elegantly captured a fuzzy notion that’s been floating around in my head for years, I was just never quite able to articulate it. Thanks for crystallizing that idea, my friend! (You know who you are.)

Indeed, straddling paradigms is what I do. It’s the essence of cross-cultural communication. And while today’s theme is clearly outside the murky boundaries of the Intercultural Twilight Zone, it’s all about straddling paradigms.

The On-Line Social Media Boom and Grassroots Tourism

Love it or hate it, on-line social media looks like it’s here to stay. Most folks I know seem to be passionately for or against: got some friends who believe Facebook is the Devil (digitally) incarnate, and others who swear by it (my two sons included).

My somewhat neutral–dare I say ambivalent–stance in the middle puts me in minority territory. Such is the life of a straddler of paradigms.

I’m a good example of someone who isn’t an online-social-networking personality. Sure I’m on Facebook–didn’t get the concept at first but after tinkering with it for a while am starting to see the value. Still, don’t spend much time there.

And I’ll fess up here and admit that I’ve even “tweeted” half a dozen times. But for the life of me I still don’t get it, at least not the value of using it on a personal level. Can’t imagine why anyone would be interested in reading about the mundane details of my life. And can’t believe anyone would “follow” me as my tweets are rare. If you’ve read other posts on this blog then you know that I share personal stories on occasion, but only if there’s a message, lesson or “moral” to the story. But the pointless, mundane details of my life are, frankly, no one’s business but my own. Folks don’t need to know what’s happening in my life real-time.

Conversely, I absolutely don’t care to hear about the mundane details of other people’s lives either, even if (no, especially if) you’re Brittany or Paris or Ashton. Got my own life to worry about thank you very much.

That said I do see twitter as a potentially powerful marketing tool, although I haven’t taken the time to make it work for me. But I can see how big-time social-networkers could revolutionize marketing, even capitalism itself. Precisely because of the relatively small investment in capital that it takes to “socially network” on-line, it seems to me that this is the ideal tool for driving grassroots capitalism. It’s actually perfect for the average Joe with limited resources since little investment in capital is required: to effectively “socially network”, all you need is a computer, power source, internet connection, and the motivation to put in the time and effort.

So getting to the meat of this post, a few months back Big Island blogger Damon Tucker started promoting the idea of bringing more tourists to Hawaii. We had a gentlemen’s disagreement on how dependent our community should be on tourism. For the record I’m all for tourism. But only if it fits into a comprehensive plan designed to make our communities sustainable long-term; and only if it makes our communities a better place.

So I got to thinking…

Before attempting to find answers, I pondered the following questions:

1) How might we “straddle” these paradigms? In other words, how might we take matters into our own hands and “redistribute wealth” (there’s a lightning rod expression if you ever heard one) through grass-roots capitalism, still be friendly to the a’ina, and in the process maintain our sense of place?

2) How might we bring tourists to our island without lining the pockets of middlemen whose added value is not commensurate with the compensation they typically receive? (You know, the cattle herders, sub-par hotels and such.)

3) How might we put this money directly into the pockets of the local populace and local businesses instead?

4) And most important, how might we put to work Damon Tucker’s on-line networking talents to create opportunities for our community and maybe even a job for Damon himself?

By all appearances Damon is the quintessential on-line social networking dude of all dudes. It’s his passion. So I say, let’s leverage Damon’s passion and talents to help our community!

Wanted: Big Island Locals for Grassroots’ “Adopt a Visitor” Program

Want to give “tourism” a unique Hawaii-Island twist? I’d like to see someone set up an “adopt-a-visitor” program based on the tried-and-true home-stay model.

The idea came to me after I started thinking about what added the most value to my vacations in Puna prior to moving here. It wasn’t the amenities of the rental unit; it wasn’t the weather, the palm trees, not even the scenery. It was the experience of interacting with local folks, sharing a small slice of their lives and forging new friendships in the process. And it hooked us after our first visit. So much so that we came back five more times on vacation. It was only natural that we eventually moved here.

Google tells me that the notion of “adopting a visitor” is not original. But I love the concept! And it seems to me that with the right strategy and coordination it’s something that could be promoted directly through on-line “social networkers” who could act as go-betweens in connecting visitors with local host families. The idea would be to sell our island as a “retreat” destination where visitors can live like a local, mingle with locals, and do it all in an a’ina-friendly way at a bargain price. Packages could include actual “home stays”. But for hosts uncomfortable having strangers in their homes the service could be scaled down, for example, a local person could meet at the visitor’s hotel or vacation rental, and act as a “local friend” on an agreed upon day or days. In the spirit of sustainability, host families and other local entrepreneurs would get fair compensation for their products and services.

Some might argue that legal issues and quality control concerns make this risky business. To give an extreme example, what happens if a visitor is inadvertently hooked up with a meth-head? It’s a valid concern. But I would counter that such a program could be modeled after existing cultural exchange/home-stay programs. The go-between would be responsible for “quality control”–easy if you’re introducing visitors to family and friends, much tougher when you’re dealing with host families you don’t know. That’s why doing it grassroots would seem to be the way to go, perhaps even work under the umbrella of local non-profit institutions.

The notion of “adopting-a-visitor” is not so farfetched. We’re currently working through several local educational institutions to promote something similar (education-themed programs for Japanese visitors that directly involve local residents). Our business currently doesn’t reach clients through on-line networking, but it’s a viable possibility in the future.

There’s absolutely no reason I can think of that the same concept couldn’t be applied to mainland visitors, or folks from just about any foreign country for that matter. And the beauty is that it breaks the traditional tourism mold by focusing on education, authenticity, sustainability, social consciousness, even community enrichment.

How It Looks Through the Pono Prism

How does the adopt-a-visitor idea fare under the scrutiny of Peter Apo’s Pono Prism? Let’s ask the 5 key questions:

How does the activity make Hawaii a better place?

It promotes human interactions that deepen relationships, encourage community-enriching activities, and brings money directly into the community.

How does the activity create opportunities for prosperity for all segments of the community?

It maintains our community’s “sense of place” since bulldozers are unnecessary. It involves the host community directly in commerce. If done properly it would also promote respect for local customs and the a’ina

How does the activity help connect the community’s past to its future?

A key role of local members of the community actually “adopting” visitors would be to educate their guests on the history, customs and traditions of native Hawaiians, as well as other ethnic groups that call Hawaii home. (Training would be required.)

How does the activity bring dignity to the community and the people who live around it?

It promotes local culture and local pride. As mentioned above, host families get paid sustainable wages (assuming a reasonable fee is agreed upon by both parties). And by circumventing big business, participants in the host community would receive substantially better compensation than minimum wage, since you cut out middlemen who line their pockets without adding value.

How does the activity insure that the people who live in and around it can continue to live there?

It offers host residents a means of earning reasonable compensation for services rendered, and taps into our sense of place.

The Bottom Line

Looking at it from a business perspective:

  • It creates tremendous value for the customer but doesn’t cost host families a penny since they would (in theory) factor costs into their prearranged agreements with visitors and receive compensation for their time, knowledge and (ideally) aloha
  • It’s an attractive, low-cost vacation alternative in a down market as it helps visitors offset the rising cost of airfare and lodging
  • It would distinguish our community from other travel destinations and travel packages, by cutting out the middleman and connecting folks directly with real people who live here
  • It taps into the value of Hawaii’s authenticity
  • It holds great potential for eco-tourism and education, even volunteer activities that could help the community
  • It bypasses the low-quality hotels and tour companies, and instead funnels money directly to the local residents who have the most to offer–and who could really use the money the most
  • It creates ideal conditions for authentic human interaction, a powerful driver of repeat business

So Damon…you ready to rock-n-roll?

Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2009


20 responses to “Straddling Paradigms: Redistribution of Wealth Through Grassroots Capitalism

  1. I’m definitely passionate about social media, blogging and bringing more folks to this island for the sake of everyones benefit.

    I do fear that many folks, particularly in East Hawaii, do not understand how powerful tools like twitter can be.

    I myself just jumped on facebook recently.

    Facebook is not quite as powerful as Twitter because facebook is only limited to those that you are already networked with.

    Twitter messages go out to EVERYONE that is on Twitter at the time.

    I’m ready to rock and roll, but would definitely need a lot of assistance in even figuring out where to begin with something like this.

    I would also want to see some support from Government and/or local businesses if a venture like this were to take place.

    ie; Since a Kama’aina is bringing a tourist to a specific location… Then the tourist should get a Kama’aina rate… and the “Local” bringing the tourist to the destination should not be charged at all for bringing a potential client to the place or locales that they visit.

  2. You know your best bet for starting up and maintaining a successful business? Grif–of course! 🙂 So…I’ll step aside here and give the floor to Grif-san…

  3. Aloha Tim and Damon! First Tim, really well laid out road map for the adopt a visitor grassroots capitalism program.

    As I read through your post was wondering if maybe we might become host families, especially for Japanese visitors…will check with my Samurai wife and see if she is open to the concept.

    So how to do we make this a business for Damon?

    I would suggest he set-up a non-profit corporation (he could then apply for government grants/loans etc.) called something like “Puna Adopt a Visitor Exchange” Inc.

    I think a local focus is best. Also better for Damon’s LQ.

    Later if the business model is successful he can mentor other local organizations about how to set-up their own “Adopt a Visitor Exchanges”.

    Maybe tie in with the neighborhood watch associations? I would guess these folks would have a good feel for the good, bad and the ugly in their local neighborhoods. I am also guessing they could be a good resource for promoting the program.

    Damon’s Exchange should be web based. He is basically connecting visitors with hosts. He also will be in charge of promoting the program virtually.

    He might actually set it up a bit like where visitors can review the available host offers, and then make contact direct.


    How would Damon make money?

    1) Charge a fee for posting and promoting host services on the Exchange.

    Quality control is going to be important. He will need to have some method of making sure people offering host services can be counted on to do a good job.

    At the same time, he needs to have some protection from potential liability issues.

    2) Charge a fee to visitors utilizing the site to book hosting services.

    Again there needs to be a qualifying process.

    3) Advertising revenues: my guess is eventually businesses will want to be able to reach visitors planning to come to Puna.

    I am happy to offer my services to Damon in getting this venture off the ground. I think it is a powerful concept and matches Damon’s skillsets well.

    Like any new venture there will be lots of challenges which need to be solved but most of that can be done by preparing a good business development plan.

    Damon…it is back in your court now. Perhaps we can get together at my place to explore how to move this project development forward?

  4. My mother just left me the following email… (I’ve scolded her one to many times for leaving motherly comments on my blog I guess… lol)

    “When Mom and Dad lived here, so many of their friends would come visit them. Mom would take them to places like Punaluu, but also places like a picnic at Green Sands Beach. If there was a party, she would call the host and ask if it was alright to bring them. It made their friends see the real part of what Hawaii was.

    When Greg and Diane, Cassie and AJ came to visit me, I had them rent a 4 wheel vehicle. As well as taking them to 67 at Puako where they swam with turtles, we went to other remote beaches you could only get to by 4 wheel. I took them to Green Sands, Waipio, etc. Portuguese sweet bread in Naalehu, Malasada’s at Tex’s. They wanted to go to a luau so they paid $50 each to go to a real touristy thing in Kona… and it was sooooo fake. When they got home they had stories of the real Hawaii that they got to see.

    Then Jack came for only one day, so I took him on the Puna loop. As you know, I stopped off at the Aionas when we were in Kalapana to see if they had extra mangos… and yes, I remember that you were really pissed that we stopped off without calling first because they had an imu going and an ohana gathering. But that visit was the most special that Jack ever had (and his son is a rich attorney on Maui). It was the first time he ever got to interact with a real Hawaii family (meaning a Hawaii family… not necessarily a Hawaiian family).

    Bill and Karyn came to visit for a few hours. I took them to the Japanese place (Miyo’s… Miwa’s, I can never remember, the place by the Wailoa Ponds.) We all had a delicious lunch for $35 total for the 3 of us. Their comment was that they had paid $50 each for dinner in Kona the night before. Visitors are always surprised when they learn that the places that locals go to have reasonable prices.

    What if you could somehow coordinate “special friends for a fee” or coordinate people who were willing to open up their homes, baby luaus, grandma’s luau, Portuguese festival, O Bon Festival, where their “friend” would introduce them to everyone they knew. The “guests” would contribute $50 (or whatever) and for the family, the cost for the event would be reduced by however many “guests” came. What about taking them to their own church, I know that Malia Church used to have brochures about the church (or maybe the concierge knew where to advise visitors to as far as churches) and members of the church would pick the people up at their hotels, then introduce them with a where they were from, etc. How many visitors know that Onekahakaha is the “best” toddler beach on the island? How about a visit to the eruption, with flashlights, water and a teriyaki chicken picnic when it was over. (So many visitors think of Kilauea as the place to see lava… not another hour down to the coast… and they go unprepared without water and flashlights….) By they way, have any entrepreneurial people thought to have a flashlight/water stand when the lava is not flowing in the park??? I know they can’t have stands IN the park. Auntie Emily is having her wedding at Pohoiki, but how many visitors would dare join in… unless they had a “special friend”.

    How many visitors are afraid to go to the hot ponds or Akaka Falls, etc, because they have heard of the theft problems? How about hiring a reliable local person to guard their car… or having a secure parking area where a person is tipped? Or their “special friend” guards it.

    Would one of the foodie bloggers want to do a booklet on “Where the local’s eat”? I have had visitors who have loved going into that little hole in the wall place for saimin. It is one thing to look up a place in the yellow pages, another thing to have a review of good food places that maybe has a local ambience, but not fancy. Your fellow bloggers who write about cheap local events… but how many people know about their blogs.

    Now, how to figure out how you could make a full time, well paying job out of all of this? Hummm.”

  5. Damon,

    Your mom and I are kindred spirits. She gets it totally.

    Just two comments for ya brah:

    1) Listen to your mom
    2) Let her post on your blog as she is very wise

    And tell mom she’s welcome to post on my blog any time. 🙂


  6. Grif has seen my face and understands I would be much better behind the scenes 😉

    I’ve always said I had a face for the radio and while were talking about moms… a face only a mother could love.

    Back on subject.

    I have no Nihonjin skills when it comes to Internet or Social Skills.

    I tried my best at Japanese 101 and failed miserably (well I got a “D” despite having a girlfriend that was full on Japanese and was helping with my homework).

    I wouldn’t even know where to begin to start marketing with folks like this.

    Starting a “Non-Profit” would be easy to do.

    Question… would the folks “Adopting a Visitor” get compensated?

    I’ve seen a few private tour operations seemingly try and take this approach.

    One of the main problems is getting the visitors here in the first place and the COST associated with that and the overall world economy… Something I certainly don’t have much control in.

    Is this attempting to cater to the “Genshiro Kawamoto’s” of the world or to the average “Joe Tourist”?

    I’d love to discuss this with you sometime Grif.

    I also have some legal issues that I’m dealing with in that I’m getting unemployment now and any attempt at starting a business on my own may jeopardize that Unemployment income that I am getting.

    Whether the Business makes money or not…. The unemployment stops… the second I start working.

    Which in a sense… gives me a bit of time to work this plan into something feasible.

  7. Damon, no one’s suggesting you go after the Japanese market. (That’s what I’m doing.) We’re suggesting you leverage your current network of contacts in the U.S. and around the world to bring folks here.

    It’ll take you a while to get a business like this off the ground, so no problem starting the planning process now. I dare you… 🙂

  8. Aloha Damon!

    People “hosting” or “adopting a visitor” would definitely need to be compensated.

    I am not sure who the target customer will end up being…that is something we need to research in the business development plan.

    My guess is that different types of folks will want to associate with similar type people as their hosts.

    For example, a business owner visitor might want to be hosted by another business owner.

    But this will take a bit of research followed by a bit of trial and error.

    No worries on the unemployment. Developing a business development plan takes a bit of time.


    You may even find that once you have the business development plan in place you will want to give up unemployment benefits because you are confident of the income potential from this concept.

    But as I said, flexibility is a key in developing business. As the business owner or soon to be business owner you have control over much more of what happens in your life than as an employee.

    If you haven’t read Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich please borrow if from the library and give it a read. 1937 classic which teaches you fundamental life development principles that remain valid today. Maybe more so with the information overload and abundance of opportunities we are now being daily presented with.

    I have reached out to a number of friends to ask them to make comments about this concept on this post.

    I look at thousands of opportunities and this one rings true as very doable.

    Let me know when you want to get together to brainstorm at my home near Nani Mau Gardens.

    My LifeMission is to help people become owners of LQ Businesses. LQ=Life Quality.

    You are helping me achieve my goals by getting together with me to develop this business development plan.

    Next week Thursday or Friday from 1-3PM is open if you are available to meet.

  9. Frif would love to meet with you.

    I’m actually meeting with NELHA and TMT officials on Thursday afternoon and my son’s soccer practice after that.

    Friday is clear at this point… email me at closer to 1 is much better as I need to be able to pick up my son from his bus stop after he gets out of school.


    P.S. I too am going to send a few folks over to this thread for their thoughts on things.

  10. Ack… that should be Grif and I see a few other typo’s as well!

  11. The following comment was left for me at “Punaonline” when I throughout a topic called “Tucker’s Tours”…

    I will leave the comment here just so that we can continue this dialog.

    The Punaonline post about this is here:


    I am going to be brutally honest with you Damon. I think the article sounds good in theory but will never fly. Here is my explanation

    1) What tourist wants to be “hosted” like an exchange student? Does a hip money dropping couple want to stay in Pahoa with a “host” family, no AC, no room service, etc? Does a free spirited hippy want to stay with that same fam? What about a family vacationing with kids? How does this “hosting” work?

    2) The Big Island is a feast or famine type of place. You either have free-spirited stinky hippies who squat and do as they please or people staying at the Four Seasons Hualalai for $1000 per night. Who spends more and generates more? Also the Hilton Waikoloa has dolphins and camp Menehuene programs for the keikis. How can you compete with that? Can anyone guarantee dolphins?

    3) There are PLENTY of places on the mainland that offer very similar experiences as Hawaii for a fraction of the cost. California being one of them. Beautiful quaint beach towns, luxurious hotels, beautiful natural parks, mountains, snow, skiing, beaches, etc etc. Why pay for a plane ticket when I can have a similar experience minus the flight?

    4) A good fraction of people that come to Hawaii want to have a good restaurants, night clubs, drinking, luaus, etc. I would venture to say a small fraction want to do the “Pahoa” experience. Just look at Allii drive and how Lulus, Huggos, and some of those other joints are packed with tourists looking for a break wanting to spend their hard earned cash…

    5) Why come to the Big Island when Maui has just as much to offer (and some)… Road to Hana, luxurious hotels, nicer beaches, nicer restaurants, lively nightlife, good hiking trails, waterfalls, zip line tours, etc etc. How can the Big Island compete?

    6) People are creature of habits and have a hard time breaking from the norm. Especially when on vacation. People know what they are going to get when going to Ruth Chris steakhouse. They know the menu, wine list, and service. Can the same be said about, say, Merrimans or Jackie Reys Ohana Grill?

    Hope this constructive criticism helps…

  12. Aloha Damon! Perfect. This is exactly the kind of feedback we want as it helps us narrow down the prospective customer segment.

    This reminds me of foreign exchange programs in the U.S.. Less than 1% of all university students actually study overseas…which in this globalized economy seems way too small.

    We are looking at maybe 1% of the total visitor market as prospective customers. We are looking for customers who probably are thinking of maybe moving here and want to get the insider’s scoop.

    The more narrow the target market segment the easier it will be to reach them, learn what they want and create a value added visitor experience for them.

    Keep getting feedback from as wide a variety of sources as possible. Invaluable for business development planning.

    PS I used to be one of those “Hulalai only” visitor types and I now shudder at the thought…so artificial. There is a segment of the visitor market that will TOTALLY welcome this insider’s tour approach.

  13. Grif’s comments are spot on. Critiques are great for planning purposes. The only comment I’d add is that based on this model, being hosted in a local’s home would be just one option. The other options would be for visitors to stay at a hotel or vacation rental and simply hook up with their local “friend” at agreed upon times during their stay. If I were a visitor coming to the Big Island for the first time, I’d clearly be in this “niche”: I’d want to stay in a rental, but would much rather go to a party at a local persons home than Lulu’s, Huggos or any of those high-priced, fake paradise restaurants and resorts. Hey, if I wanted fake paradise I’d never come to the East side to begin with. Now re-read Damon’s mom’s post and tell me that the activities she listed wouldn’t be more fun than all that fake tourism happening in Kona, Waikiki and Maui.

  14. Intresting idea.

    I love going out to Puna to explore myslef, it is so big it is hard to figure out where everything is. What would help me be a Puna tourist is if there were some place where were people could post all the cool stuff to see and do in Puna in an online Puna tour book.

  15. Tyler,thanks for the feedback. I know Damon appreciates all the input. It’ll be interesting to see if/how the idea evolves.

    Nice blog you’ve got there, lots of practical information for living in Hilo. Looks like you’re enjoying life here as much as we are. 🙂

    Mahalo for checking in,


  16. i have done this twice already with people that were taking the island cruise. met them and drove them around to see the sites while they were here. hooked up with one of them through twitter. i constantly search twitter for people visiting hilo and give them advice on places to visit and restaurants to eat at and call on other locals on twitter to lend a hand.

    as someone who markets on-line and writes applications for the internet and has had my own companies this would be very easy to set up and run (i have contemplated it before and have done it but at no charge). there is not a ton of money to be made doing this but depending on the needs of the ‘host’ the compensation could be enough to keep the activity profitable.

  17. If this is the “Larry” that I know of… I hope that you will possibly help Grif and I with this project.

    Look forward to seeing Grif tomorrow to toss around ideas and look forward to meeting “Larry” again, if this is the Larry I know, the following Saturday 9/12/09 here:

    Maybe we can convince Tim to come get some free Pizza and Beer?

  18. yes damon it is me. grif asked me to leave a comment here. this is very doable. like i said i have already done it and i know the people i did it with would have paid if i had asked them to. those that say it will not work need to be reminded that they are not the target and are but 1 voice in a world of 6 million. i would never do this as a tourist myself but plenty of people would and will and all it takes is a handful to get started and spread the word!

  19. some quick numbers to work from. in 2007 7,627,819 people visited hawaii

    1,739,458 visited the big island.

    if just 1% of them had an interest in the service mentioned here that is 17,394 potential clients or 47 a day. that is more than enough potential to start a business on.

    the key is contacting them and pricing for them. both of which can easily be done through twitter and a simple 2 or 3 page web site.

    start up cost are more time than anything else and deciding how grass roots you want the operation to be v.s. how traditional (licenses, permits, insurance) at start up time.

    and to see if there is true intrest simply tweet (DM) folks you find on twitter who are currently, about to or recently vacationed here. i would also get input from kelly (@Zensunni) since he runs a tourist business and he will be at the next #bialoha get together.

  20. Thanks Larry and Grif for sharing your know-how and aloha. Best of luck to Damon. Hope you do this…but only if you feel the passion.

    This idea is just one example of something anyone can do, and it still looks good through the pono prism. Our “pono” options are limited only by our creativity. Hopefully others are inclined to keep straddling paradigms, and help the community in the process…

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