Hawaii Tourism CEO bribed by Air China, Japan Airlines, China Airlines and fined by the State of Hawaii

Hawaii Tourism CEO bribed by Air China, Japan Airlines, China Airlines and fined by the State of Hawaii

Is accepting a complimentary airline upgrade considered a bribe? The State of Hawaii Ethics committee is convinced it is bribery and a fine should be imposed.

Millions of visitor arrivals, millions invested in tourism promotions, the travel and tourism industry in Hawaii is a billion dollar industry. It constitutes the largest export for the US State of Hawaii. The Hawaii Tourism Authority has overseas representatives and often executives fly to their source markets. Major source markets for Hawaii is the mainland USA or Canada,  China, Japan, Korea or Australia. Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean every flight from any of the Hawaiian airports is long-haul. Los Angeles is 5 1/2 hours, Tokyo 7 1/2 hours,  New York 11 1/2 hours or Beijing 11 hours away from the Aloha State.

The State organization in charge of running Hawaii Tourism is the Hawaii Tourism Authority. George Szigeti is the CEO and by all means, this title is similar to the title of a minister of tourism if Hawaii was an island country. The Chief Operating Officer Randy Baldemor is the second most important tourism executive in the U.S. State of Hawaii.

Tourism executives are busy people, especially if they need to travel to Tokyo to attend a dinner and a short conference on a two-day trip. It’s a  routine task for executives running a large tourism board or ministry of tourism worldwide.

Any minister of tourism would fly first class with a team of people. It’s about getting a good night’s sleep on the plane able to arrive rested when representing his or her country or destination abroad.

How should a CEO or COO of a large US State Tourism Board travel? First, business or coach?  Most people would say First for the CEO, business class for the COO.

In Hawaii, top State Tourism Executives are expected to squeeze in coach. They are still expected to do a good job when getting to their destination and not to be tired. They often attend meetings immediately after they arrive and need to maintain a rested appearance expected from some representing a relaxing vacation destination.

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Millions in profits are generated in Hawaii, and policymakers worry about the CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority flying in business class.

It comes even worse. The Ethics committee in Hawaii is not investigating paid business class tickets- there aren’t any. They issue fines for Hawaii Tourism Executives cashing in on status upgrades from a coach seat to a business class flatbed seat.

HTA Chief Operating Officer Randy Baldemor was fined $6,000 for receiving free upgrades to business class from Japan Airlines, China Airlines and Air China between 2015 and 2016.

The commission fined current CEO George Szigeti $1,750 for receiving courtesy upgrades to business class from Japan Airlines twice in 2015.

Hundred- thousands of frequent flyers in lower business positions in in the world may be required to buy only economy class tickets due to company policies, but there are many options to upgrade a ticket these days without paying for it.

Frequent flyer miles, complimentary status updates, paying a premium coach fare with an automatic upgrade or a smile at the airline’s station manager can often do the job. No one would ever think this would constitute bribery, except for Hawaii officials.

Not charging Hawaii taxpayers for a business class tickets fare is commendable and should be rewarded. Instead, in Hawaii it means $12,000 in fines are imposed on Hawaii Tourism Authority executives, including the CEO and COO. In Hawaii traveling in business class on state business means bribery.

Szigeti and the others are accused of free upgrades on international flights while traveling in their official capacity as state employees. They are also accused of failing to disclose the gifts as required by law.

Shouldn’t it be time also for the State of Hawaii to go with the times? Embarrassing and not encouraging for people in top leadership. Embarrassing for the image of the State of Hawaii to send a message to the world: “We are cheap, and we treat our executives bad. Come visit us and see for yourself.”

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