Senate leaders call on Hawaii Tourism Authority to restore cuts


The leaders of the state Senate Tourism Committee called on the Hawaii Tourism Authority to reverse its decision to slash funding for several visitor programs.

Sens. Clarence Nishimura and Donna Mercado Kim said the cuts will threaten the state’s efforts to attract repeat visitors.

The tourism authority recently announced it was reducing special spending limits for its 2009 budget by $17 million, or nearly 20 percent, from $88 million to $71 million because of projected smaller tax collections.

The cuts threaten to eliminate programs that provide Hawaiian entertainment and greeters at airports and harbors, as well as Sunset on the Beach, evening hula and torch-lighting in Waikiki and the Waikiki by Moonlight event.

“These are high-visibility events that build warm and lasting memories for our visitors,” said Nishihara, chair of the tourism committee. “They make Hawaii someplace special, and encourage visitors to come back.”

Nishihara said with the current economic downturn, Hawaii needs to set itself apart from other destinations and the programs help do that.

The authority said the cuts were due to the declining financial projections from the state Council of Revenues. The special program fund is determined by Transient Accommodations Tax collections, such as hotel taxes. The agency receives about a third of the collections and the rest are distributed to other state programs.

Kim, who was vice-chair of the committee before being recently named to head the Ways and Means Committee, said HTA’s decision was a lack of strategic thinking.

“We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” she said. “These are long-range concerns. When we start cutting back on programs that give visitors a sense of Hawaii as a special place. We’re threatening our brand.”