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Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority awards US marketing contract for 3rd time in 2 years

Boat off of Waikīkī
Jess Loiterton
Boat off of Waikīkī

The Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority has awarded nearly $70 million to three vendors for destination stewardship services to market the islands to North American visitors.

It’s the third time the state agency tasked with managing tourism has awarded the marketing contract for the U.S. since 2021. The last two contracts were rescinded after protests by the opposing bidder.

The contacts were also in jeopardy after the state Legislature failed to fund HTA at the end of this year's session, but the agency is able to tap into a $200 million discretionary fund set aside by the governor and lawmakers.

“These three awards are made possible by a collaborative effort between the state Administration and the Legislature to secure funding for HTA, which we deeply appreciate,” John De Fries, HTA's president and CEO, said in a statement.

The largest of the three contracts will go to the Hawaiʻi Visitors and Convention Bureau. HVCB was awarded $38.35 million to market the islands to potential visitors from the U.S. — a role it has played for decades.

The request for proposals also asked that the contractor create a communications program to educate visitors about safe, respectful and mindful travel before they arrive.

The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement was awarded a $27.14 million contract for support services for destination stewardship. That includes visitor education once they arrive in Hawaiʻi and administrative support for HTA's community programs.

“Today marks the start of a new beginning. While it has been a long journey, we are ready to hit the ground running and focus on the future of Hawaiʻi, and its people," Kūhiō Lewis, CNHA's CEO said.

HTA also awarded a $2.4 million contract to VoX International for destination marketing and visitor education in Canada.

HTA has historically focused on marketing the islands to bring in more visitors. But with the growing concern of overtourism and resident displeasure with the state’s largest economic industry, HTA has pivoted to destination management and stewardship.

It released an RFP in 2021 to find one contractor to provide both destination management and tourism marketing to the state’s largest visitor market.

That contract went to HVCB in December 2021. But after protest from the competing bidder CNHA, that contract was rescinded.

A second contract was awarded to CNHA last summer, but that was protested by HVCB and spiked.

Mike McCartney was the then director of the Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism and HTA’s head of procurement. He took responsibility for mishandling the contract and said he preferred two RFPs — one for destination stewardship, and another for marketing.

Barring any protests or appeals, all contracts will be in effect by the end of next month. Each contract is for 2.5 years, with options for two-year extensions.

Jason Ubay is the managing editor at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Send your story ideas to him at jubay@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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