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CNHA seeks to reconcile culture and commerce under new tourism contract

Kahului Airport on Maui
Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority
Kahului Airport on Maui

After a six-month timeout and lots of finger-pointing and squabbling, the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority split a $65.5 million contract for marketing and managing tourism in two, the state agency announced Monday.

The Hawaiʻi Visitors and Convention Bureau got $38 million to market the islands to potential visitors from the U.S. — a role it has played for 25 years.

The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement was awarded a $27 million contract for destination stewardship, including visitor education and administrative support for HTA's community programs.

This is the third time the HTA has awarded the marketing contract since 2021. The last two contracts were rescinded after protests from the opposing bidder — the CNHA the first time and the HVCB the second.

The contracts 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.

"I think we needed this moment where everyone kind of got rattled so we can reshift, refocus, and now we can move forward together," CNHA CEO Kūhiō Lewis said.

Tyler Iokepa Gomes, the CNHA's pick to lead the tourism arm of the organization, said the CNHA will build on the work it has already done on a smaller scale at the local level and use that expertise for HTA initiatives like the destination management plans.

"The entire contract wouldn't be possible without this partnership with HTA. So really we're here to support them and through that bring our unique lens as a classically Native Hawaiian organization," Gomes said.

Lewis said he sees this contract as an opportunity for Hawaiians to advocate for everyone who calls Hawaiʻi home.

"The problems that face Hawaiʻi are not unique to Native Hawaiians," Lewis said. "The reality is, I see this as an opportunity for Hawaiians to be seen as leaders in how we can uplift all of Hawaiʻi. That's so important to me because we are the host culture."

Lewis said the organization is in a unique position to bring together the community, the tourism industry, and government officials.

"Industry hasn't necessarily worked closely with community because they don't know how, and community hasn't worked with industry because they just don't know how," he said. "CNHA has been in the community, we've provided support services, opportunities for people to grow. We understand the unique values of Hawaiʻi as well."

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

This interview aired on The Conversation on May 23, 2023. 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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