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Lawmakers inch closer to eliminating Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority

FILE - A traveler points to a Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority message board at Kahului Airport on Maui.
Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority
FILE - A traveler points to a Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority message board at Kahului Airport on Maui.

State lawmakers advanced measures in both chambers last week that would disband the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority and place some of its functions under a new office at the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

House Bill 1375 and Senate Bill 1522, two amended versions of essentially the same proposal, are close to passing in their opposite chambers.

They must be heard by each chamber's money committee before a final, full chamber vote. As of Monday afternoon, neither bill has been scheduled for a hearing.

There is a real chance that the 25-year-old tourism marketing agency will cease to exist and an Office of Tourism and Destination Management will be created at DBEDT. However, Gov. Josh Green could veto the measure.

The new DBEDT office would be guided by a nine-member board of directors to be appointed by the governor:

  • A resident from each of the four counties (4)
  • One representative each from the hospitality, airline, and retail industries (3)
  • One with a "background in Hawaiian culture" (1)
  • One with a "background in agriculture" (1)

The board would hire an executive director to oversee day-to-day operations and office staff. The bills also allocate funds for the proposed office, the Hawaiʻi Convention Center and new employees.

This comes after years of attempts by lawmakers to lower funding and chip away at its autonomy. The most recent event drawing the ire of the public and legislators was the HTA's mishandling of a lucrative marketing and branding contract for the continental U.S. Lawmakers have called into question the authority's purpose and procurement process.

The semi-autonomous state agency was created in 1998 through a legislative act. While funded by the Legislature, policies are set by a volunteer 12-member board. The governor appoints board members who then hire a CEO to lead the HTA.

According to its website, HTA "provides comprehensive management of tourism for the State of Hawaiʻi" and is "the state’s official source for information on tourism market research, partnership opportunities, industry news and timely updates during emergency situations."

Its primary function has been to coordinate the marketing of the Hawaiian Islands to possible visitors from the state's major and nascent market areas, including North America, Japan and Oceania, as well in other areas such as sports.

It does not market directly though. HTA awards multimillion-dollar contracts to private firms and organizations to market Hawaiʻi as a vacation destination.

HTA has pivoted to destination management amid concerns about overtourism. It is also in charge of the Hawaiʻi Convention Center, which functions as the HTA headquarters.

Past coverage of the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority:

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