Friday, July 20, 2001

Web-site links should be
limited only by good taste

The issue: The city has stepped back
from its Web site policy of allowing
advertising but has continued to
permit links to private organizations.

THE Honolulu city government drew attention recently by allowing advertising by private businesses on its Web site. It has since withdrawn from such an active role in the world of commerce by limiting its extracurricular postings to unadorned links with private-sector Web sites. The links could be valuable not only in facilitating Internet research but in promoting business in the community, as long as they remain a conduit of tasteful information rather than an unfairly discriminating filter.

Courtney Harrington, the city's information technology director, told the Wall Street Journal last month that the city plunged into the world of advertising after "we thought we could study it to death or just do it." The city seemed to be on solid legal ground in running the Internet ads, but city officials developed second thoughts, even though some mainland jurisdictions, including Salt Lake City and the state of Iowa, have entered the ad market.

The Honolulu Web site maintained descriptions of businesses and organizations until Mitchell Kahle, an activist for separation of church and state, complained that religions were allowed to promote themselves on government Internet pages. After Star-Bulletin columnist Rob Perez reported Kahle's complaint, the city dropped the descriptions but has retained simple links to various sites of businesses, nonprofit organizations and churches, including the Satanist Church of Hawaii.

The links are posted on the city Web site as "a convenient means of contacting local businesses and organizations," according a policy statement that also is part of the city's site. It adds that links are available to businesses that are "registered and authorized to conduct business" in the state or registered with the state as nonprofit organizations. A disclaimer states that the postings should not be interpreted as endorsements by the city.

At some point, the city could face the decision about whether to allow links to businesses and organizations that may be considered unsavory, such as risqué entertainment -- escort services, strip clubs or adult bookstores. Existing court decisions suggest that government need not sell ads on its Web sites to anyone who will pay, according to the Wall Street Journal; the same legal conclusion could logically extend to whether governments can use discretion in determining which links to allow or disallow.

The Internet is not the first government venue in which businesses have marketed their products. Buses and park benches throughout the country contain commercial messages and have created little if any controversy. Government officials should be allowed to exercise good taste and judgment, within constitutional boundaries, about which messages -- or links -- should be allowed. That consideration should be added to the city's policy about links from its Web site.

Gays are an untapped
tourism market for isles

The issue: A consultant suggests that
the visitor industry aim marketing at
upscale gays and lesbians who could
boost Hawaii's economy.

Marketing Hawaii as a visitor destination to gays and lesbians could bring in new and needed dollars to the islands. As the tourism bureau expands its niche marketing efforts, there is little reason to ignore this potentially lucrative segment.

Although some may be wary of an image problem this marketing could present, tourism-oriented locations such as San Francisco and the Hamptons on Long Island, N.Y., attract many gay and lesbian travelers, yet their presence has not deterred other visitors.

A consultant who presented the idea to a Hawaii Tourism Authority committee contends there is little evidence that such promotions scare off straight visitors or families.

Eduardo Hernandez, who has represented the gay-oriented Hula's Bar & Lei Stand in Waikiki and the Maui AIDS Foundation, said gays and lesbians -- many of whom are professionals and earn good money -- are known as big spenders in travel destinations and are "a niche market too valuable to ignore."

He pointed to a gay-lesbian event in Miami last year that drew an estimated $15 million to the economy in five days. The Volcano Party, an AIDS/HIV benefit planned for next March at the Hawaii Convention Center, will attract about 3,000 to 4,000 people, including 2,000 passengers aboard the Norwegian Star's all-gay cruise.

Hernandez argued that if Hawaii doesn't promote itself to homosexuals, the "unwitting" message is that they aren't welcome. Tony Vericella, chief executive of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, acknowledged that gays and lesbians represent an upscale market, but said tight budgets require HVCB to use its money to reach the widest market possible and has only started niche marketing in the past few years.

Tourism and industry officials have said recently that they hope to re-position the Hawaii's visitor market to attract not only numbers, but the more wealthy. They would be wise to consider carefully the possible negative effects in targeting gay and lesbians by making sure their efforts treat everyone equally and are sensitive to the image that Hawaii wants to present to the entire market.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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