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HTA survives another takedown attempt by lawmakers amid dwindling funds


A bill that would have disbanded Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority to create a new destination management agency was deferred Friday, after a long life in the state Legislature.

Tourism chairs Rep. Sean Quinlan and Sen. Lynn DeCoite spent much of Friday trying to hammer out the final details of House Bill 1375, which sought to repeal HTA to create a new agency under the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

HB 1375 would have gone into effect on July 1, 2023, with no funding going toward the new office.

However, both the House and Senate couldn't agree on a path to move forward.

"At this time, I'm recommending that we defer this measure," said Rep. Quinlan during Friday's conference hearing.

Another bill, Senate Bill 1522, also proposed disbanding the authority. But unlike HB1375, it would have phased out the authority, and given funding for support.

But Friday's decision to defer HB 1375 leaves HTA with a very uncertain future in terms of annual funding.

Although the authority survived a repeal, lawmakers left HTA almost entirely out of the state budget last week.

The Legislature did allocate $64 million to repair the Convention Center's leaking roof and staff salaries are covered in the budget of its oversight department, DBEDT.

But that doesn't include the authority's request of $75 million to cover marketing contracts, its community partnerships for its destination management campaign, and other operational expenses.

Even though the legislative session ends Thursday, there is still a small chance for HTA to receive financial support.

"There are funds that are available to address some of the needs for the tourism industry to deal with destination management," DeCoite said.

"I think more conversation is going to be needed, probably, during the interim to work with the departments, as well as HTA and its members," she said.

In a statement released over the weekend, DeCoite said she believes HTA can use roughly $30 million in unused federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money to operate for the next year.

"I am eager to have further discussions on this crucial issue with HTA and our legislative colleagues in the next legislative session," she said.

Meanwhile, HTA president and CEO John De Fries released the following statement over the weekend.

"With the omissions of the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority from the state budget bill and [the] deferral of HB1375, our work in holistic integrated destination management, visitor education and brand marketing is in jeopardy," said De Fries.

"Our leadership team and board of directors will be making tough decisions in the coming days about canceling active procurements, existing contracts, and ongoing community work," he said.

Canceling active procurements would directly impact the highly contested U.S. marketing and brand management contract, which had to be restarted for a third time late last year.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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