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Hospitality consultant says HTA contract award to CNHA reflects shift to destination management

FILE - Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu.
Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority
FILE - Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu.

Hawaiʻi's tourism industry is at a crossroads. It’s rebounding faster than anyone expected and the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority is changing who will market the islands to North America.

It is by far the state's largest source of travelers. Through the first four months of the year, 2.8 million people visited Hawaiʻi. Over 90% came from the U.S. or Canada.

The HTA awarded a $34 million marketing and destination management contract to the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement instead of the Hawaiʻi Visitors and Convention Bureau. Previously, the HVCB had been the only entity ever contracted to market Hawaiʻi as a destination to the continental U.S. and Canada. The HVCB has until Tuesday to decide if it will challenge the award.

"When it came time to review the contract for the U.S. marketing, the RFP (request for proposal) that was issued was very different. And it reflects what was in the strategic plan," hospitality consultant Frank Haas said. "The strategic plan calls for developing an integrated destination management system, and certainly marketing is a part of that. But it really saw the interplay between community, Hawaiian culture, natural resources and marketing."

Haas is part of a transition team for the Kilohana Collective — a hui organized by the CNHA. Haas previously worked at the HTA and had the HVCB as a client.

How did we get to this point with a possible second challenge to the award of a $34 million contract?

In 2019, Hawaiʻi saw 10.4 million visitors in the islands — a record year and the first time the state saw more than 10 million visitors. Hawaiʻi was on track to exceed visitor arrivals again in 2020 if not for the pandemic. The pushback from residents who complained of overtourism spurred the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority to create a strategic plan to try and stem that. It's in the process of implementing DMAPs, or Destination Management Action Plans.

"HTA measures resident sentiment, and we've all certainly seen anecdotes about too many people on beaches, too much traffic and some of the things. So that's really been an issue that HTA has worked to address and the way they attempt to address it is through their planning process," Haas said.

Haas said he agreed to get involved in order to help CNHA succeed. He wrote the strategic assessment for the group and hopes to help people understand the procurement process.

"If there's gonna be change, there's gonna be discomfort with change," he said. "I care deeply about Hawaiʻi and I care deeply about it succeeding in tourism. So yes, if somebody's got a contract to manage the destination and to do marketing to the U.S. and I can help when they have that contract, I would certainly want to be at the table."

This interview aired on The Conversation on June 17, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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