Well, it’s time to look back on the year 2008. Here are our picks for the stories that were most significant for those of us who live in Hawaii and for those who either visited or are thinking about visiting.

Obama leads the way. Not only was the breakthrough nature of his ascendency to the presidency the year’s biggest story nationally, it also was a super local story, as in “Local Boy Makes Good.” Tour groups are taking Oahu’s visitors to Obama landmarks — his school, his favorite fast-food joints, the house where he lived as a kid, the beach where he surfed… We islanders tend to follow our heros closely after they leave “home” and become prominent elsewhere (World Series champion Shane Victorino, Olympic Decathlon champion Bryan Clay), so you can imagine how we might react to a local boy’s becoming PRESIDENT!

One of the big stories locally has been the question of whether to move ahead with the long-planned and long-debated $5.3 billion fixed-rail transit system on Oahu between the western or leeward side of the island to Downtown Honolulu and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Although the voters approved it through referendum in the past election, the issue is certain to dominate local politics throughout the coming year. Whatever the outcome, it should have little effect on Hawaii’s visitors, especially during 2009.

Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island continues its record-breaking current eruption — 288 consecutive days as of December 31.

Pope Benedict XVI approved the nomination of Father Damien DeVeuster of Molokai to receive the Roman Catholic Church’s highest honor and Father Damien will be canonized as a saint in a Vatican ceremony in the fall of 2009.

In sports, the University of Hawaii 2007 football season ended with the Warriors earning a BCS berth against SEC power Georgia, who pretty much cleaned their clocks in a blowout win. The 2008 Warriors finished with an even record after suffering a bad defeat by Notre Dame in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve. Actually, they fared better than expected following the loss of June Jones, who departed to become head coach at SMU, and the graduation of Colt Brennan, a Heismann Trophy runner-up, and the team’s four leading receivers. As noted earlier, we considered the successes of Shanne Victorino and Bryan Clay to be local sports stories. And Sports Illustrated named Honolulu’s Punahou School’s as the nation’s top athletic program.

As usual, a lot of top show-biz acts performed here; among them, Earth Wind & Fire, The Police, Kenny Rankin, Melissa Ethridge, Chicago and Jason Mraz. Local performer Loretta Ables Sayre earned a Tony nomination portraying Bloody Mary in the Broadway revival of “South Pacific.”

The demise of Aloha Airlines on March 31 was a hugh blow to the local psyche, the travel industry and many whose Hawaii vacation plans were sent askew. 1,900 Aloha workers lost their jobs overnight — the largest mass layoff in the state’s history. Aloha had been operating more than 700 interisland flights per week and and more than 120 weekly fights to and from the West Coast. On top of that, three cruise ships stopped operating in Hawaii, and the Hawaii Superferry once again faces challenges that will be resolved in the coming year.

Curiously, all that bad news has resulted in good news for everybody who is considering a Hawaii vacation. Facing diminishing numbers in hotel occupancy and airline seat cutbacks, resorts, hotels and many attractions are rolling out deals, discounts, twofers and other offers to keep you interested. Right now, Hawaii represents the best vacation value you’ll find anywhere in the world.

As we wish you the best New Year you can have, we at Hawaii Aloha Travel remind you that we are tuned into all the special offers available in Hawaii. We can help you put together a sensational island vacation at the best possible price.

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