George D. Szigeti, Hawaii Tourism Authority president and CEO, has heard the critics of his agency.
He’s heard them say tourism is ruining the islands, especially Kauai.
He’s heard them say the HTA is not needed.
He’s heard them say Hawaii doesn’t need more tourists.
He’s heard them say money that goes to HTA could be used elsewhere for the benefit of the state (oh, no it can’t).
And George D. Szigeti, much like George Banks in “Father of the Bride” when he’s imploding at the grocery store while buying hot dogs and buns, is saying he’s had enough (in the movie, the line is “George Banks is saying no!”).
“Make no mistake, HTA will be forced to make significant cuts to its marketing programs that support Hawaii’s number-one industry, and the people who will feel it the most are those whose jobs depend on tourism continuing to do well,” Szigeti said in a press release.
What’s got Szigeti fired up now? A little something called House Bill 2010, Senate Draft 2.
“HB2010 SD2 is completely unnecessary, it is counterproductive to what is best for tourism’s future, and it puts Hawaii at a competitive disadvantage to other global destinations that have far greater resources to fund their marketing efforts,” he said.
The bill amends the allowable uses of a special fund for convention center operations and maintenance, and adds a cap on the amount of money deposited into the fund, according to Mauinow.com.
“HTA’s annual budget of $108.5 million, which is wholly funded by the Transient Accommodations Tax, will be cut down to $60.3 million if HB2010 SD2 goes into effect,” he said. “That is a drop of $48.2 million, or 44 percent. Funding to support HTA’s management of tourism for the State of Hawaii will be cut from $82 million to $60.3 million, while funding of $26.5 million to support the operations and obligations of the Hawaii Convention Center will be eliminated.”
That’s a significant hit, so Szigeti is right to be concerned. And, perhaps, so should you.
Consider this: Last year, Hawaii’s tourism industry generated record-high totals of $16.7 billion in visitor spending and $1.9 billion in state tax revenue, while also supporting 204,000 jobs statewide, the most ever.
Again, that’s significant.
Now, this paper, like others, has been critical of the amount of money spent to attract visitors to Hawaii. Seems we could stop marketing Hawaii completely and we would still have more than a million visitors a year on Kauai. Do we really need to remind folks on the Mainland and elsewhere that Hawaii has beaches and sunshine and dolphins and green sea turtles and it’s a great place to hang out? By now, the secret is out.
But tourism leaders will tell you, in this ultra-competitive world, yes, we do.
Let’s hear more from Szigeti, who recently sent out a press release about what HTA does and why it’s needed.
HTA was created in 1998 to provide comprehensive management of tourism for Hawaii by putting in place a single agency whose various responsibilities were previously handled by several departments, none of which regarded tourism as their primary focus. Szigeti said that the cuts resulting from HB2010 SD2 will unravel the mission and purpose behind HTA’s formation.
HTA works with community organizations statewide to develop product-enrichment programs that showcase Hawaii’s unique appeal and authenticity as a place and a people. Tourism marketing generates travel demand for the Hawaiian Islands, while the offering of community products in the form of festivals, special events, cultural celebrations and arts and music programs serve as a key factor in drawing visitors to Hawaii and encouraging them to return.
“HTA’s product-enrichment programs are interconnected with Hawaii’s tourism marketing,” he said.
Szigeti noted HTA’s staff is applying the recommendations from the audit report on HTA issued in February by the State Auditor to improve its operations, internal processes and training of employees.
“We are utilizing the State Auditor’s recommendations to become a better and stronger organization, which ultimately helps us to support the continued wellbeing of Hawaii’s tourism industry,” said Szigeti.
In fiscal year 2018, the collection of Transient Accommodations Tax from hotels and lodging properties in the Hawaiian Islands will generate a projected $546 million in revenue for the state. That will be a record high total for funds generated by the TAT.
“Driving travel demand for the Hawaiian Islands translates into generating higher TAT revenues, which is vital to the state’s economic health,” said Szigeti.
Since emerging from the Great Recession, tax revenue generated by the TAT for the state’s general fund has steadily increased from $60 million in fiscal year 2011 to a projected $330 million in fiscal year 2018. This TAT revenue can be utilized by state officials to support community programs, social services, infrastructure and special areas of need for residents.
Again, that should not be easily dismissed.
There is no doubt tourism is critical to Hawaii’s economy. The numbers bear Szigeti out. And while tourism clearly provides many benefits for those who live here, there is a price to be paid, such as rising cost of living, increasing traffic and changing lifestyle.
There is also a rising sense of animosity between locals and visitors.
What this state’s leaders have to decide on is, what’s the breaking point? Do they keep marketing Hawaii, keep fighting for that tourism dollar, keep highlighting the Aloha State to bring people here? Or do they scale back, set limits, and be prepared for the consequences of that.
We do know that no matter what decisions are made in regard to tourism, there will be cost.