Toothless Hawaii Tourism Plan In Jeopardy As Visitors Alienated

Hawaii’s Tourism Plans Marooned Again, Mired in Latest Controversy

Hawaii visitor marketing and communications are stuck again, while the controversy surrounding the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), is unabated. This comes as the contract for the next five years of marketing was abruptly pulled from the likely winner.

The recently rescinded offer from the HTA was to the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB), which has been the contractor for the state for many years. When the last long-term contract expired, HVCB was awarded an interim six-month extension.

So this brings up an interesting point about these two players. The HVCB was already in operation before the State Legislature created HTA in 1998. But HVCB can track its history back to 1902 when Hawaii was a territory and a group of businessmen under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce and the Merchants Association began promoting tourism. It’s had several name changes over the years: Hawaii Tourist Bureau (1919), Hawaii Visitors Bureau (1945), and Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (1996). The first contract with the state was in 1961 when funding changed from private business to a mix with state funds. It became completely state-funded in 1999 by the newly established HTA.

These problems come as the state is facing a myriad of critically important tourism-related issues that include, but aren’t limited to:

1. Controversial visitor destination management and marketing plans. Hawaii is seeking to attract and educate island visitors in new and important ways. Those include protecting the environment, among other things.

2. Increasing visitor taxes and fees. Visitors are complaining and you see it in comments here on Beat of Hawaii. State legislators are becoming increasingly concerned, too. Awareness is building that there is a tipping point at which over-taxation will produce unwanted results. Aloha needs to be retained and therein, a good communication and marketing arm is critical but missing.

3.  Fast-encroaching over-tourism. Hawaii is preparing to exceed all prior visitor numbers, first domestically, then internationally.

4. Alienation of visitors. There’s no doubt that visitors are feeling unsure about how welcome they are in Hawaii. That too is obvious in the comments. And that’s a key role in any destination’s tourism management.

Hawaii legislature digs into tourism planning.

A bill now in the state senate (SB1065 – included below) seeks to inject legislative controls on HTA in order to address, “the effects of tourism on Hawaii’s economy, environment, and way of life for residents… [and this] opportunity to rethink and transform Hawaii’s tourism industry for a post-pandemic world in a manner beneficial for Hawaii and its future.” The bill directs the “Hawaii Tourism Authority to develop a tourism management plan that includes tourism marketing, best practice destination management, and regenerative tourism”

What’s the HTA/HVCB controversy about this time?

It was expected that HVCB would again win the new contract. It isn’t clear why their proposal has been rejected, or whether they will indeed be the selected vendor. As recently as last week, our coconut wireless said to expect this to be resolved within days. Now, however, that isn’t at all clear. The current interim contract will expire in June.

Hawaii’s state research arm is at odds with HTA.

UHERO, the University of Hawaii research arm for the State of Hawaii came out swinging recently with its critical take on upcoming changes to Hawaii tourism plans. 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.

Hawaii has been crafting tourism plans starting over forty years ago. . However, UHERO pointed out that “until now, the State’s policy toward tourism has been to accommodate its growth. With HTA’s new [plans]… that is about to change!”

Oahu’s plan to reduce tourism:

  • Decrease the total number of visitors to Oahu to a manageable level by controlling the number of visitor accommodations and exploring changes to land use, zoning and airport policies.

UHERO said however that they “are not convinced that HTA can achieve this or any of the other actions because they lie beyond HTA’s capacity. Further, they say the state’s research arm intends to subsequently address whether they even believe that “reducing the number of visitors would actually be good for the community.”

  • BOH: This important discussion is further unfolding amid this round of HTA/HVCB controversy and UHERO’s take on it.

Oahu destination management plan.

“By 2024, together with the community, the visitor industry will be rooted in mālama — to take care of this place and each other. Oahu will live in joy, abundance, and resilience because visitors and residents understand what is pono, and have respect for each other and the environment.”

The number one goal stated in this plan is to reduce tourism. Following that, improving infrastructure and visitor sites, and communications programs follow. Not far after that comes “regenerative tourism fees” to fund the protection of natural resources.

As pointed out by UHERO, “HTA lacks authority over state and county agencies.” They have made that point repeatedly. The research group also calls out that costs associated with the implementation of the proposed plans have not been addressed. UHERO said, “it is a serious shortcoming as State lawmakers passed legislation during the last session requiring HTA to compete for funding from the general fund; moreover, there is no guarantee that other agencies have funds available….”

UHERO says Hawaii should instead “focus on tourism governance” not tourism reduction.

They point out that while Hawaii is “very good at crafting tourism plans… the problem has been ineffective implementation….”

So what is tourism governance and what is its importance? Sustainable tourism is likely to be achievable, according to UHERO when there’s effective governance. So just what is that?

UHERO defines it as “a process whereby different stakeholders interact in order to solve problems and find opportunities for the different sectors involved … It is the coordinated participation of all stakeholders in the tourist destination with a view to achieving shared goals.”  What is needed is coordination across all state government, industry, and community stakeholders.

The state of Hawaii clearly doesn’t have effective tourism governance. That was acknowledged by the HTA as far back as 2015 when it said it “did not have sufficient authority or resources to require others to help carry out that plan or to constantly monitor and oversee what was being done by others. Therefore, the new [plan]… is an ‘HTA’ plan only, though it recognizes the need to work with partners and stakeholders.”

HTA’s tourism plans are not State of Hawaii’s tourism plans.

UHERO concludes, “As the latest HTA tourism strategic and action plans are not State plans, they only required approval by the HTA board and not by state lawmakers or other agencies. Why should we expect the outcome to be any different this time?… HTA, despite its good intentions, is still plagued by structural shortcomings that have not been remedied.”

UHERO said previously that “three conditions are required to successfully manage a destination: 1.) Authority to take action, 2.) Sufficient resources to implement actions, and 3.) A long-term strategic view. Hawaii doesn’t meet these conditions.”

What is needed is a plan capable of governing tourism across all jurisdictions, agencies, functions, and stakeholder groups. “The long-term solution for tourism sustainability will require buy-in and participation from a broad range of stakeholders.”

In summary, UHERO states that “over-tourism has become a much larger social issue since the 1970s. The problem with Hawaii’s strategic planning process for tourism is that Hawaii has put massive efforts into developing tourism plans but has put little effort and thought into developing a governance system to ensure that plans are successfully implemented. That has to change.”

BOH: We concur with UHERO’s findings. Toothless HTA plans are just that. Furthermore, unless they are well thought out and become the State of Hawaii plans with appropriate “tourism governance,” they’re bound to both fail, and to further alienate Hawaii’s visitors.

We welcome your input.

Updated 3/22/22.



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167 thoughts on “Hawaii’s Tourism Plans Marooned Again, Mired in Latest Controversy”

  1. Thanks for attaching the SB regarding HTA. Having served in government I want to point out a few things:

    1.) Keep an eye on WHO those employees and consultants are. This is TAXPAYER’S MONEY and a quick leak are those 2 places.

    2.) Anyone else catch the reference to “selling and building a convention center?” More tax money spent and another typical money leak.

    3.) I’m impressed with the the concept of county control so long as oversight of the funds’ utilization is maintained. Good luck!

  2. Thanks to the military and Providence, we lived in Hawaii. Having lived there, we feel we have a vested interest. The last time we visited we helped 808 clean up a beach, and will surely do so this time. We want to keep Hawaii beautiful. We have come back to visit often, but this time when our booking car rental, the taxes were half as much as the total rental price. We love Hawaii, and we hate to see everything about the almighty dollar. The tax-tipping time is rapidly approaching for us.

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