HTA fights tourism backlash

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

“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.

  1. billyjoebob April 12, 2018 1:38 am Reply

    It would be interesting to see where the 48.2 million dollars goes. That’s like what, 48 air conditioners for the schools?

  2. Kathy Deutsch April 12, 2018 5:51 am Reply

    Just received another AAA travel magazine extolling the virtues of the state. The local magaine stands have Hawaii on the cover, urging people to go.
    I live in the Midwest, where “unspoiled” Hawaii is always mentioned in vacation plans. And the worst part is, Hawaii is framed as a giant playground.
    HTA, please, in your marketing, make Mainlanders aware that this is where people live their own lives. Hawaii is not a place to entertain visitors.

  3. kauaiboy April 12, 2018 8:11 am Reply

    Sounds to me like Mr. Szigeti is lobbying for continuation of of his cush job. We should stop trying to cram in as many tourists as we can to Hawaii and provide those who do choose to visit with a more positive experience. Because there are insufficient and sub-par roads, complete with tons of potholes (partly as a result of so many rental cars), dirty bathrooms at beach parks, and a plethora of disgruntled local residents, the tourist experience has gone from “great trip, can’t wait to return” to “beautiful, but not worth returning” . Cutting the HTA budget and lobbying for freed-up Transient Accommodation Taxes to be fairly returned to the Counties to help keep their infrastructure together is a no-brainer. More saved funds can, and should, be used by the State to keep state-controlled roads in better repair.

    Keep Kauai kauai-it, keep it in better repair, and reduce the number of tourists and rental cars and we’ll do just fine, thanks you very much.

  4. JOSE E BULATAO April 12, 2018 8:13 am Reply

    Let’s face it, folks! The BILLIONS of people on the planet have indicated that one of the prime destination points they would like to visit is Hawaii—the islands of Paradise located in the midst of the balmy, blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. Travel capapbilities have transitioned from the invention of the wheel which replaced walking, and faster travel in air, rather than trodding on foot or traveling by land-or-ocean-bound transport systems, and even including “go now and pay later” arrangements to keep people coming to Hawaii like a spigot of a water faucet flowing endlessly, 24-7.
    The point of the matter is this: Tourism is an economic-reality in the business of revenue-generating arrangements to provide for the economic stability of who we are and where we are. The challenge of this arrangement is to maintain a “balance” and control in being able to accommodate how many people can canoe (the islands) handle? How can we maintain the environmental integrity of this precious place? When we’ve learned how to handle the maintenance requirements and still hold on to our sense of space, along with the respect for each other as we “share” being here together, we’ll manage. Until then, we will need to be wary of how astute a juggler we need to become to keep our “balancing act” a showcase of a place —-“where we live….there are rainbows with life and the laughter of children… this place that we love!” Sincerely, Jose Bulatao, Jr, Kekaha

  5. No_They_Didn't April 12, 2018 11:40 am Reply

    I’m confused. In 1974 when Lihue was just starting to become a city of Kauai, there was nothing in town. Plantation was around. Everyone then screamed more jobs. Therefore more tourism. And in fact Act 185 is for tourism as mentioned. Forty-something years after, the population has doubled in size. Just curious to Kauai, why not just halt development on anything? Why not just stop it growing? Economy. It doesn’t make sense to me. You wanted development, because it is you. Why couldn’t this increase in population be stopped in 1974? Stop lying about keeping Kauai Kauai, 1953 era. So they see and enjoy over. What is up with that view? No development. Because many people are liars on Kauai. Get real. For crowded. For LA.

  6. Valerie April 12, 2018 1:23 pm Reply

    HB2010 SD2 is necessary. Are we going to sit around and hope the HTA cuts back a tad on marketing us? It’s not going to happen unless they are made to. As recently as a couple of years ago I was opposed to upping the TAT for the visitors because it seemed wrong to charge them so much, even though we were on overload then. Now it’s reported the 1st 3 weeks of March had visitor numbers up 44%. This will not end if we sit around and ignore it. No I don’t want more visitors so we can spend more TAT funds on festivals. No the TAT funds are not paying enough, or any, to Kauai’s “social services, special needs of residents and INFRASTRUCTURE!” What malarkey. If we do nothing we deserve this and more. And that’s just what we will get so that George D Szigeti can keep his job. Let’s not forget we are at FULL employment. Full! We don’t need more. We don’t need residents to keep paying the price. Let your government know you support HB2010 SD2

  7. PauloT April 12, 2018 1:33 pm Reply

    Well here we are with an agency and CEO that we can no longer control. Hopefully most of us can see the difference between tourism within constraints and unfettered, non stop, month over month visitor increases. Make room for more if G D Szigeti has his way and if HB2010 SD2 is not passed. Is this how we chose to live? Crowded out of our own island. We need tourism, we do not need this much of it.

  8. numilalocal April 12, 2018 2:41 pm Reply

    I have no issue with marketing Hawaii as a visitor destination. What I do take issue with is the whole notion of MORE MORE MORE. Just how much MORE are we expected to absorb? I’m local and see the acceleration deterioration of both infrastructure and quality of life due to the impact of multitudes of people on this island (both residents and visitors). The population’s expanding at an unprecedented rate and we’re all paying the price for that.

  9. steve ball April 12, 2018 5:06 pm Reply

    The editorial seems to imply the TAT revenue went from $60 million to $330 million due only to increase tourist numbers. Let’s be clear that much of that increase was due to the TAT tax rate being increased. And still Kauai does not be a fair share returned.

  10. manawai April 13, 2018 10:11 am Reply

    No_They_Didn’t April 12, 2018 11:40 am said, “Just curious to Kauai, why not just halt development on anything? Why not just stop it growing?”

    Here’s a major reason. If you stop building homes, all existing homes start going up in value (price) even faster. It’s happening now thanks to certain council members. So, if you own your own home or a rental unit now, you don’t want any more houses/apartments being built. “Keep Kauai Kauai”
    BUT, if you don’t own a home and are renting, your rents will continue to increase because THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE PEOPLE MOVING HERE, like many of the folks reading this, and causing higher demand for housing which forces the prices and rents up. If you want to own your own home, it is and will continue to be out-of-reach. This is the reality. Newcomers are causing the escalation in housing and rental prices (demand) and our County government is limiting the supply. Simple supply and demand. The result of our existing policies on development is making home ownership unaffordable.

  11. Sue April 13, 2018 10:18 am Reply

    I am not sure why we even need a Tourism Board, much less give them boatloads of money. I am sure they can survive on $60 million! Or, will that just cut into their salaries too much?

  12. Oingo boingo April 13, 2018 11:28 am Reply

    Salt pond beach park looks like Waikiki now days with so much tourist on the beach and tents all over the place at night…even in the pavilions….rediculous….and poipu beach park is even worse…no parking at all…..

  13. The view from afar May 18, 2018 4:35 pm Reply

    I am a recent first time visitor to Hawaii (the islands of Oahu and Maui) and, as I work in tourism, I viewed Hawaii through my occupational lens during my visit. Hawaii has built up enviable brand cache and equity for more than a century that has been enshrined in song, literature and film. I tend to side with those who question the necessity to spend over 100M annually to promote a place that already has acquired a self-sustaining aspirational quality and is more in need of sustainable tourism. It was widely reported recently that Hawaii is facing problems with its water supply and perhaps there are other areas of environment stress (coral reef damage etc.) that mass tourism is impacting upon. I suggest in the long term interests of Hawaiians it would be better to attract visitors who have the same value proposition as locals and not every man and his dog.

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