What's Correct In Hawaii: Mainland Or Continent, Neighbor Or Outer-Island?

Terrible Hawaii Travel Marketing Mess. Plans Doomed.

Hawaii’s vision of a sustainable travel model is going nowhere fast. That as dueling marketing partners reach some tentative agreement in a hotly contested and dirty $34M dispute. Old-timer Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) and the newcomer Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) have for now agreed on a shared future for Hawaii marketing. Perhaps.

UHERO, the UH research arm for the State of Hawaii, has long been critical of HTA’s Hawaii travel planning, saying that “among other things, there is concern that HTA’s controversial plans tend to marginalize tourists, while at the same time not having the backing of the state or the authority needed to ever be implemented.” The notion, for example, that visitors can be coerced into desirable behavior or volunteerism, is at best questionable.

The problem is that the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), responsible for this drama, has little to no oversight of monies spent as a result of inadequate controls. That was according to recent articles from multiple sources about the Hawaii State Auditor’s report from last month. Pair that with CNHA’s contract award, alleged to have been rigged, which could spell even worse news for the state than the previous HTA/HVCB partnership.

New marketing partner CNHA has been accused by OHA (Office of Hawaiian Affairs) in a review, of being non-compliant in 2020 in handling Emergency Financial Assistance Program funds. OHA indicated that 37 out of 50 of their grant recipients were non-compliant.

HTA oversight is little to none.

The Hawaii State Auditor last month reported that HTA’s oversight is lax and its internal controls deficient.

Nevertheless, the state’s Mike McCartney said, “I am very pleased with the progress that the two organizations have made in coming together so that we can move forward in the best interests of the state.”

What’s being proposed is that CNHA will take responsibility for Hawaii’s destination management in a hugely expanded role. At the same time, HVCB will stay on as the lead for marketing and branding for the mainland market. What that all means and the specific duties, and responsibilities of each, will still need to be ironed out or otherwise head to court.

In the interim, a current contract that HVCB holds for all the roles will be extended for another six months while this settles in if it ever does.

How we arrived at this mess in Hawaii travel.

For background information, read our post: Breaking: Hawaii’s Marketing Pivots To Native Hawaiians.

Hawaii’s messaging to the world is crucial in creating a good situation for residents and visitors. Without plans and responsible parties to carry them on, how can Hawaii achieve its goals of improving tourism for visitors and residents?

This summer, 100-year-old HVCB protested the award of “their” multi-year $100M contract award to CNHA (Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement). That deal was for most Hawaii tourism marketing, brand management, and global support services. There are also other contracts that’ll be up for grabs.

Last year HVCB was led to believe it would receive another multi-year contract. That made sense since contender CNHA had no marketing or hospitality experience. Yet, with CNHA contesting the award, Hawaii took it away from HVCB. A second RFP was proffered, with the loser becoming the winner under questionable circumstances at best. The scoring of the final proposals was suspicious, which was said to have resulted in the new award. The integrity of the HTA scoring process and the judges’ impartiality have been questioned.

HTA is supposed to be investigating its own contract award process.

Did that happen? We don’t know, but doing that themselves seems problematic. If the protest by HVCB isn’t ultimately dropped, the state would need to perform an administrative review outside of HTA. This agreement is unquestionably designed to put all of this controversy and discontent to rest.

An issue raised is how the new marketing plans will impact mainland Hawaii visitors, which is the state’s primary source of income.

Could this be heading in a positive direction? Or is this just window dressing?

HVCB said, “We also look forward to collaborating with HTA and CNHA to collectively achieve a regenerative tourism model.”

These make-nice statements come from two dubious organizations that are also historically like oil and water.

HVCB and HTA are long-troubled. Heads should have rolled decades ago.

Perhaps bringing in new blood and incorporating other groups, too, might result in a more holistic approach to Hawaii tourism. Honestly, it probably can’t hurt. That is unless the new partner is even worse than the prior one.

The state legislature isn’t too sure about all this.

The chairperson of the Hawaii House Tourism Committee coughed at the potential cost of the new partnership. Richard Onishi said, “It’s hard to judge whether or not there is going to be required additional funds, whether or not the Legislature would approve any more additional funds.” He added, “I do not want to see more controversy brought into this major contract.”


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20 thoughts on “Terrible Hawaii Travel Marketing Mess. Plans Doomed.”

  1. why not spend the $65 million on improving the visitors experiences & maintaining the sites tourists visit.. * also, include improving the police force as they claim they do not have the funds to protect the humans in hawaii.. * hawaii does not need 2 advertise * let the individual businesses pay for their own advertisements

  2. HTA is receiving the Wake Up Call it should have had starting a few Decades Ago. The CNHA certainly is Not up to running the agency and its Policies are Anti-Tourism at Best. This is a True Marriage of Inconvenience for Hawaii. Now we find that Inadequate, at Best, Oversight by the State has allowed the problems and to propagate all of this time, where will any of this Benefit Hawaii? The Prize, $100,000,000.00, is Taxpayer Money without Rules determining much. Finding that the HTA is Much Better than the CNHA by simply looking at the Latter’s Forray into Restrictive Requirements of Tourism, it is Time to have Close Oversight of Both! This is Craziness and the Real Crazies are the CNHA and State.

    1. Of course they don’t track funds. May be tougher to hire a marketing company that your son or daughter just started and pay them a million to create a logo. Maybe hire other family members as consultants with zero experience.

  3. I cannot understand why Hawaii taxes are paying to promote tourism. Let the hotels, airlines, tours, and event companies pay for it….they make the profit of only which 14% stays on the islands. Both of these organizations do more harm than good.

  4. We need to stop marketing and advertising these islands it’s not like people don’t know we exist. It has come to a crucial point for residents where tourism has become overwhelming. It’s time for native Hawaiians to step in and encourage further education about the islands leaving it better than you found it. And being stricter on rules like no trespassing, no going past where you’re not supposed to, no approaching wildlife or touching them, the banning of sunscreens, generally how to give back to the islands not just take. Enough is enough we are not here to entertain you. We are not animals in the zoo.

    1. “Enough is enough we are not here to entertain you. We are not animals in the zoo.” Maybe, but what have you done to change the behavior of your elected officials that are misusing the taxpayers funds? It’s great that you air your grievance, but a more meaningful action would be to stop voting for the people who support and profit from the current situation.

      1. One Party State, see Illinois, NY, Oregon, California and Washington. Then there’s the proposed Train for Kapolei originally to connect Honolulu Airport, now Ala Moana Shopping Center (where they want to charge Customer’s and Employee’s for Parking, because too many Locals using Ala Moana Beach and Park and surrounding businesses use the Parking for free), still in the discussion stage from the late 1950’s!

  5. As someone who has spent the last 45 years in Marketing and Advertising this whole thing is fishy. How could there not be controls in place for the RFP process? Additionally, if everyone is Hawaii is complaining that there are “too many Tourists visiting the Islands” then why the need for a giant Mainland Marketing and Advertising Budget. Furthermore, why are there no checks and balances as to how this money has been spend in the past or in the future?

  6. Sounds fishy to me, too many pockets getting lined! Hawaii Tourism took off for two reasons, the confluence of Hollywood, whether ‘From a Here to Eternity’ or Elvis and ‘Blue Hawaii’, Statehood 1959, Television, ‘Hawaiian Eye’, ‘Hawaii Five-0’, ‘Magnum PI’, James A. Michenor’s ‘Hawaii’ 1959 and the opening of Japan to tourism travel, ‘Golden Week’, from the 1950’s thru 1970’s, add-in the late Chris Hemmeter, the Developer who created the Mega Resort Complex in Hawaii from the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, the land behind it being further developed, formally his Kings Alley, Grand Hyatt Kauai, Hyatt Regency Waikaloa, Hyatt Regency Maui, Westin Maui and Kauai, all from the seed of developing Dining at the Ilikai. If you build it, they will come!

    1. In the near future those higher interest rates are going to affect all vacation travel in a negative way. You can already see in the housing market and it will cool the car market too. When interest rates were so low, cash had little value, that’s in the process changing. It may take a while but, it’s going to happen.

  7. I’m kind of wondering why Hawaii even needs to market itself to the world. It’s not like it’s an unknown. I dare say the proverbial “everyone” knows about Hawaii. I don’t think an ad is going to convince someone to come who was already onboard with that.
    They’d be better off using those funds to upgrade places that tourists frequent already so when that tourist experiences it, they will enjoy it and want to come back.

    1. Mufi needed an easy gig and needed to take care of his entourage. Sort of like politicians in Washington getting ambassador gigs. Big salary comps everywhere he goes and a bunch of kickbacks. The aloha way.

  8. Outsiders to the ‘native culture’ might look at this debacle and wonder if they had stumbled upon a story about a 3rd world country, where swine muscle their way into the feeding trough. It’s sad to watch this devolution of such a wonderful natural resource as Hawaii.

    1. In the 80s, Schofield Barracks was described as “a third rate post in a third world country.” Money shortly flowed in and Schofield became a nicer place to live and work.

      The “third world country” doesn’t appear to have changed as much.

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