Maui News

Community Leaders, Native Hawaiian Stakeholders Unite To Oppose Cuts To Tourism Management

April 23, 2021, 3:47 PM HST
* Updated April 23, 11:38 AM
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Peter Apo, founding board member of Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association. Courtesy photo.

A coalition of community leaders, cultural authorities and visitor industry experts held a press conference in opposition of changes to House Bill 862 in the Hawaiʻi State Senate.

The coalition says the legislation “threatens to eliminate three of the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority’s four strategic pillars,” and fears the changes will “remove the agency’s ability to do anything except marketing Hawaiʻi, while dismantling the State’s ability to effectively manage tourism for the benefit of Hawaiʻi’s residents, culture and environment.”

As a result of language included in HB 862, programs for Hawaiian cultural training, local entrepreneurship, sustainability and visitor assistance could be reduced or eliminated, according to the coalition.

A joint legislative conference committee on Thursday recommended that the measure be passed with amendments.

“HTA was created to manage tourism, not simply to market tourism. The way the bill is currently written, HTA will only have a marketing budget. Everything else goes away,” said NaHHA Board President John Aeto. “The passage of HB 862 threatens to undo years of progress, returning us to a time when no one was managing a rapidly growing industry. Tourism simply doesn’t exist in a bubble – it affects the community, our unique culture and Hawaiʻi’s fragile natural resources.”

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“At the very moment the community has expressed that the link between our benefit and the economic engine of our state needs to be reinforced, deleting HTA’s ability to be the only statewide, coordinated effort to invest directly in the needs of kamaʻāina will not help,” said Kekoa McClellan, Hawaiʻi chapter spokesperson for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, who spoke in opposition of the proposed cuts.

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“While none of us in the community wish tourism was such a large portion of our economy and our future, the least we can do is make sure tourism is aligned with our community values and the care of our places,” said Dr. Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, a visitor industry veteran and leader of the ʻĀina Aloha Economic Development Futures Initiative.

“Over the years, in the absence of the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, there was no center of gravity to address the growing impact of the industry on our people and on our communities,” said Peter Apo, a former legislator, visitor industry consultant and founding board member of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association. “We can’t go back to turning a blind eye to the fact that tourism is an industry that, by its very nature, creeps into every corner of an island’s fragile ecosystem and, if not managed properly, can have a debilitating effect on the quality of everyday life for Hawaiʻi’s people.”

“Government has to think about whether Hawaiʻi is selling a bedroom community with sandy beaches, or proudly presenting the world with a deep, rich culture as part of a visit,” said Dr. Pualani Kanakaʻole Kanahele, a highly respected cultural authority and ʻohana to NaHHA co-founder Dr. George Kanahele. “In order to do that, we have to not only protect, but support the culture. Our plea to the poʻe aupuni (Legislators) is to rethink the HTA bill. It is your kuleana (deep seated responsibility) and your reciprocity for aloha ʻāina (stewardship of the land).”

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“Small, community-based nonprofits have been working tirelessly and in good collaboration with HTA over recent years,” said Mehanaokalā Hind, Senior Vice President of Community Programs at the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement. “Now that we have a Native Hawaiian leading the organization with a vision to connect our communities with the industry that drives our economy, we feelt like we had a chance. Now with what the Legislature is proposing to do, it’s taking a step back. It’s taking ten steps back.”

“The rationale behind founding the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority was to have one state agency to focus on the interaction between the state and tourism. That was non-existent before that,” said Rick Egged, President of the Waikīkī Improvement Association, Vice Chair of the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaiʻi, and the former director of the Hawaiʻi State Planning Office when HTA was created. “There have been ups and downs, but over the last 22 years, HTA has done a good job – and is poised to do an even better job. Leadership has never been better.”

“Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority’s strategic plan has all the right words in it – sustainability, community, culture, environment. When the HTA board wisely appointed John De Fries as President & CEO, I was so inspired and optimistic that finally there would be some traction,” said Dr. Pauline Sheldon, an internationally recognized tourism expert and former Dean of the University of Hawaiʻi’s School of Travel Industry Management.

“Other destinations are facing exactly the whiplash we are feeling, from over-tourism to no tourism. They are looking for role models, and they are looking to Hawaiʻi,” Dr. Sheldon said. “The decisions we make resonate throughout the world. We now have a trajectory that is toward sustainable and regenerative tourism. We should not retract that. We should not cut the funding for HTA.”

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