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.”