HONOLULU – Hawaii tourism officials plan to spend more money on marketing efforts at the expense of cultural programs aimed toward island visitors.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority and its industry partners decided Thursday to shift $12 million through March toward direct efforts to get people to take vacations in the islands. The money is meant to help combat the slump in tourism.
Some promoters warn against diverting money from cultural programs and services for tourists.
Hula leader Vicky Holt Takamine told the board that shortchanging cultural programs takes away from attractions that bring tourists to Hawaii.
“There’s no reason to fly across the Pacific. They can go right down to Puerto Rico,” she said.
High airfares and the overall downturn in the economy have caused visitor arrivals to drop 6.6 percent in the first seven months of the year compared with the same period a year ago.
The $12 million will be added to $54 million already set aside for marketing. Marketing makes up the majority of the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s projected $88 million budget for the current fiscal year.
The new money will target markets that have direct air service to Hawaii: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix, Chicago, Denver, Dallas and New York.
“There’s never been a campaign like this,” said David Uchiyama, Hawaii Tourism Authority’s vice president of tourism marketing.
Organizations facing cuts include hula festivals, Native Hawaiian cultural programs and the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, which helps visitors who run into trouble with everything from a car break-in to the death of a family member.
“No programs were totally eliminated,” said Rex Johnson, the authority’s president and chief executive officer. “There’s trimming that went on in every strategic category except marketing.”
The tourism board also learned Thursday that the drop in visitors has hurt hotel room tax revenue. The last fiscal year ended June 30 with $78.4 million in hotel room tax revenue allocated for the agency, down $4.5 million from what was projected.