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The future of the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority (HTA) is uncertain as two bills (SB1522 SD2 and HB1375 SD2) propose to repeal HTA. A new brief by the University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization experts argue that neither measure would improve tourism governance.

If passed in its current form, the senate bill would establish an Office of Tourism and Destination Management within the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT). It would be governed by a nine-member board of directors appointed by the governor and would essentially do what HTA is presently doing plus tourism research (which is currently housed in DBEDT).

The house bill would replace HTA with a destination management agency that’s attached to DBEDT. The agency would be headed by a commission (akin to the Public Utilities Commission) that would consist of three paid members appointed by the governor; members would serve terms of four years (but not to exceed eight years).

Will replacements be more effective?

An effective tourism governance system in Hawaiʻi is able to provide horizontal coordination (i.e. coordination across state agencies), vertical coordination (i.e. coordination between state and county agencies) and interaction with the industry, the community and all other tourism stakeholders, according to UHERO brief authors Paul Brewbaker, Frank Haas and James Mak. They suggest a new model of tourism governance in Hawaiʻi, such as a revamped HTA—a super-HTA—that is endowed with the authority to marshal the expertise and resources of other agencies in addressing tourism’s challenges.

The UHERO brief also suggests looking at the composition of the board. The HTA board was designed to have a balance of industry, community, Hawaiian culture and other diverse representatives. The reality has been that this diversity hasn’t always been represented on the HTA board. The long-term solution for sustainability will require buy in and participation from a broad range of experts and stakeholders.

Repealing HTA without an improved replacement is unwise.
UHERO brief

“The current bills at the Legislature don’t adopt the two suggested changes,” according to the UHERO brief. “In each case, a new governing board/commission moves into the building replacing the old board that’s moving out. The same structural deficiencies remain. Hence, there is no assurance that the proposed HTA replacement agencies will be able to manage ‘Destination Hawaiʻi’ any better than HTA.”

The authors said that Hawaiʻi is not alone in trying to fix its destination governance system.

“Other destinations are doing the same, and some—especially in Europe—have a head start on us. We can benefit from studying what other destinations are doing,” according to the brief. “There is a bill (HB1381) at the Legislature that proposes to do just that, but it didn’t get a hearing and, thus, died during the session. Repealing HTA without an improved replacement is unwise.”

Background about HTA

HTA was formed in 1998 after members of the Economic Revitalization Task Force felt that a separate tourism authority with substantial autonomy would bring tourism more visibility and attention than when it was just another responsibility assigned to DBEDT. In recent years, HTA has established its 2020–25 Strategic Plan and Destination Management Action Plan (DMAP) for each island to “rebuild, redefine and reset tourism’s direction” over a three-year period.

To assist in the implementation of DMAPs, HTA solicited requests for proposals (RFP) to manage U.S. marketing and destination management. The contract was first awarded to the Hawaiʻi Visitors and Convention Bureau—DBEDT’s long-time marketing contractor. The competing bidder, the Council on Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA), protested the award. The DBEDT director rescinded the award, and HTA issued a second RFP, which resulted in the selection of CNHA. HVCB protested the award. The outgoing DBEDT administrator rescinded the award to CNHA and expressed his preference for two separate RFPs, one for U.S. marketing and the other for destination management. This means that a third round of RFP would be required.

Read more at UHERO’s website.

UHERO is housed in UH Mānoa’s College of Social Sciences.

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