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Thursday, October 27, 2022
Hawai‘i Tourism in Search of the Promised Land
By UHERO @ 11:59 PM :: 714 Views :: Tourism

Hawai‘i Tourism in Search of the Promised Land

By Paul Brewbaker, Frank Haas, and James Mak, UHERO, OCTOBER 10, 2022 -- EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Public pressure has been mounting on the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA) to shift its focus from mainly marketing to destination management to mitigate tourism’s negative impacts on the community. HTA’s 2020-2025 Strategic Plan states that “This is the first strategic plan developed while HTA is re-balancing our attention from mainly marketing to greater emphasis on destination management.” In the past, HTA responded to community concerns about tourism’s negative impacts only on “an informal basis.”

Hawai‘i has a long history of community-based tourism planning going back to the 1970s. The problem has been implementation. The biggest hurdle has been the lack of effective co-ordination among tourism’s many and diverse stakeholders.

HTA does seem to have statutory basis for managing Destination Hawai‘i via Chapter 201B-3 Hawai‘i Revised Statutes. But the language that gives HTA authority to co-ordinate tourism’s stakeholders to work together is weak. A stronger governance structure is called for.

In support of the broad 2020-2025 Strategic Plan, HTA produced a Destination Management Action Plan (DMAP) for each island to “rebuild, redefine and reset tourism’s direction” over a three-year period (2021-2023/2024).

The DMAPs were shaped by steering committees representing diverse stakeholders on each island. They lay out specific actions – consistent with the broad goals established in the 2020-2025 Strategic Plan – for HTA to undertake in collaboration with other tourism stakeholders. HTA calls it a regenerative model of tourism. The DMAPs are essentially an ad hoc “to do” list. Some proposed actions may be ill advised perhaps because they were not based on thorough research. Implementation of the actions and the 200 sub-actions in the DMAPs are divided into three phases. For example, Action A of the O‘ahu DMAP aims to “decrease the total number of visitors to O‘ahu to a manageable level.” Most sub-actions require more than one phase to complete.

To assist in the implementation of DMAP initiatives, HTA solicited bids for a single contractor to manage both U.S. marketing and destination management. Combining these two functions recognizes the interplay between the marketing message for Hawai‘i and the management of the place. The marketing part of the RFP aims to overhaul Hawai‘i’s brand to attract a different type of visitor to Hawai‘i; the destination management part aims to mitigate the negative spillover effects of tourism. The contract was awarded to the Council on Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) but the award was challenged by the Hawai‘i Visitors & Convention Bureau (HVCB). Nonetheless, HTA has begun to implement the DMAPs.

We argue here that there is an opportunity to reform the way we manage Destination Hawai‘i to get better results. We consider Peter Apo’s suggestion that a cabinet position be created for HTA’s CEO in the governor’s cabinet to offer more opportunities for him/her to access heads of other State departments and agencies. We note that if HTA is elevated to the cabinet level, it may lose (even more of) its authority.

There is another approach. A House Bill in 2022 (HB1785) would have required the Legislative Reference Bureau to study and evaluate alternative tourism governance systems. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass. We urge that it be reintroduced in the next legislative session, with adequate funding to support a high-quality study. Hawai‘i is not alone in grappling with tourism-related governance issues and the State could benefit from examining other models from around the world.

In the meantime, strong leadership from the incoming governor is essential. The governor has the power to bring the department/agency heads to work together. The governor needs to develop legislative packages (and budgets) derived from some of the best ideas from the DMAPs with input from State agencies.

Hawai‘i is embarking on a new direction in tourism recognizing the need for better management. We have an opportunity to create a governance structure that can achieve it.

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