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Hawaii Tourism Association is urging Governor Lingle to veto the new Hawaii Sunshine Law

Hawaii Tourism Authority wants 88 million dollars to disappear from the public eye - a veto from Governor Lingle could stop it

Apr 29, 2010

The Hawaii Tourism Association (HiTA) is asking why the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) wants to hide details of the 88 millions dollars they are spending in promotions.

HiTA is asking Hawaii Governor Lingle to veto the proposed Sunshine law authorizing the Hawaii Tourism Authority to maintain the confidentiality of competitively sensitive information. This means, that it will be even more difficult to get information about how 88 million dollars of promotional money is being managed by the Hawaii Tourism Authority and who's receiving it in grants and contracts

HiTA president Juergen Thomas Steinmetz said: “Please veto SB2187, CD1 - a bill that enables the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) to hide its decision-making. I am concerned that HTA has made serious mistakes in allocating its marketing budget, relying on going back to existing markets over and over, at the expense of developing new markets. Yes, HTA devotes some effort to China and Korea, but Europe is virtually ignored - and Latin America, most of SE Asia, India, and the rich Middle East markets are left out. HTA doesn't participate in the world's major travel trade shows. We need to see how and why their US$88 million is spent and have an opportunity to comment before decisions are made.

"As an example, we attract almost equal numbers from China and the UK. HTA spends millions to get the former, but perhaps US$50,000 for the British. Which is the most cost-effective? More than 52 percent of our foreign visitors come from Japan. Is it wise to have so many eggs in one basket? We need the opportunity to raise such issues."

The only Hawaii State House representative in opposition to the bill was Lyla Berg. She said, addressing the House on April 21: "Many of our colleagues have asked my why I have consistently voted in opposition to this measure.

"Initially, I was opposed because this bill gives HTA 'the authority to withhold from public disclosure competitively sensitive information, including: a) complete survey and questionnaire forms, b) coding sheets, c) database records of the information.'

"On surface, the list seems like a small adjustment, particularly in light of the specific task that HTA has in front of them to present Hawaii in new, creative ways that will invite visitors to travel at this time in the world’s economic market.

"My initial concerns have to do with transparency, information to the public, and also to the legislature so that we, in this building, would know how to better support the industry.

"With each cross-over of this bill, however, more has been revealed to me about HTA, its operations, and the need for even MORE attention by us, the fiscal conduit for HTA.

"My concerns were exacerbated after I read the January 2009 auditor’s report of the HTA in which the observation was made that 'in the last five years since the previous audit, HTA has spent nearly US$270 million in state funds or 90 percent of its marketing funds to attract visitors from NA and Japan...' Without a strategic plan that maps out the long-term goals and processes to assess the accomplishments of its major contractors, the authority’s board of directors is unable to demonstrate that the promotional dollars have been spent purposefully and effectively. By failing to define its own strategies and account for its efforts, the authority has not fulfilled its leadership role to manage Hawaii tourism in a sustainable manner during times of economic decline OR prosperity. The authority’s failure to establish clear objectives and account for its own activities extends to its major contractors.”

"I find this observation to be more than extremely troubling, particularly in light of what SB 2187 proposes.

"It is true that the HTA made a power point presentation to us at the beginning of session to explain what it does and its relationships with HCVB, the county visitor’s bureaus, and other contractors, however, Mr. Speaker, I feel that MUCH more information, articulation, and communication with the legislature AND the public needs to occur before we can feel more confident that the monies we allocate to them are well-placed – and effectively utilized.

"At this time of economic uncertainty for our state, as well as in the world, I would like to encourage our colleagues to be much more discerning with THESE kind of bills that give more authority to ANY government office or department.

"This bill, Mr. Speaker, changes the requirements of HTA from 'developing measures of effectiveness to assess the overall benefits and effectiveness of the marketing plan and include documentation of the directly attributable benefits of the plan to Hawaii’s tourism industry, employment, state taxes, and the state’s lesser known and underused destinations' TO ONLY 'developing measures of effectiveness of the marketing plan and include documentation to assess progress of the marketing plan towards achieving the authority’s strategic plan goals.'

"Mr. Speaker, the stated mission of the HTA is 'to strategically manage Hawaii’s tourism in a sustainable manner consistent with our economic goals, cultural values, preservation of natural resources, community desires, and visitor industry needs.'

"If the measures of effectiveness of HTA are only focused on their strategic plan goals, I am not certain, at this point, that we should be enabling the HTA additional marketing autonomy that allows them to withhold information from public disclosure.

"Mr. Speaker, I went online to see what I could find on the HTA website.
I used the email address to send a message and still haven’t received a response. The board committee agendas and meeting minutes are empty – and not posted. There is not contact information listed for any of the board members.

"With an US$88 million budget for fiscal year ’09-10, and only US$67.275 million expended – AND only a US$269,000 reduction to their budget because of furloughs, I have deep misgivings about this bill.

"Perhaps I would feel much better if HTA would offer US$250,000 to the Early Learning Council, or US$1 million for the SHPD audit, or money to the Ag Dept. for inspectors, or DOCARE for enforcement officers. If HTA wants to market Hawaii to MORE people to visit, I believe that AT THIS TIME in Hawaii’s economic forecast, HTA might also give a little from their budget, as every other government department, division, and agency must do, to maintain or improve our islands’ infrastructure for all to enjoy."

The Hawaii Tourism Association (HITA) agrees with representative Berg.

HiTA has been working on new visitor markets for Hawaii. HiTA is in contact with more than 4,500 travel industry professionals in 82 countries.

HiTA is a membership organization and not funded with public money. HiTA has been working extensively with the US Department of Commerce Export council on new opportunities for Hawaii. HiTA's president Juergen T Steinmetz, is also chair of the tourism committee for Export Council.

Tourism export is the largest export factor for the Hawaii economy. Spending by international tourists are considered an export to the United States.

Hawaii Tourism Authority wants 88 million dollars to disappear from the public eye -  a veto from Governor Lingle could stop it
Source: Hawaii Tourism Association

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