Monday, December 16, 2002

No hula for Baptiste

Kauai’s new mayor plans to leave
promotion of tourism to groups
like the Kauai Visitor’s Bureau

By Anthony Sommer

LIHUE >> Unlike Kauai's previous mayor, who circled the globe for eight years singing and dancing at travel conventions, newly-elected Mayor Bryan Baptiste told a conference of island trade groups last week that the county will no longer participate directly in tourism promotion.

Instead, he said, he will provide the funds used by Mayor Maryanne Kusaka for tourism junkets to nonprofit agencies such as the Kauai Visitor's Bureau to enhance their efforts at conventions.

"I'm not a good hula dancer, you wouldn't want to see me do it and I think it would lower our visitor count substantially," Baptiste joked.

The Friday meeting was the first between the business community and the mayor, who has kept his economic development plans close to his vest.

Baptiste did not rehire Gini Kapali, Kusaka's' economic development director and constant travel companion, and turned her duties over to his administrative assistant, Gary Heu, who is essentially the deputy mayor.

Baptiste indicated at the meeting he still has not decided whether to keep the department under Heu's direction, hire a new director or disband the agency and turn its functions over to existing private nonprofit agencies.

Mamo Cummings, president of the Kauai Chamber of Commerce, urged Baptiste to keep the agency intact and hire a new director. She said to do otherwise would put Kauai at a disadvantage in dealing with the state and federal governments because all the other counties have a single individual responsible for economic planning.

Baptise said tourism will remain Kauai's core industry for many years but he wants to stabilizes it so the county's economy can begin to diversify.

The county had been spending $60,000 to send Kusaka and a large entourage to at least four major tourism trade shows a year.

"I would prefer to farm the money out to do trade shows to fulfill the same mission," Baptiste said.

Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, said Kauai is the only county that does not appropriate money to its visitors bureau. Her agency is funded entirely by the Hawaii Tourism Authority and her funding has taken deep cuts the past two years.

In the area of attracting the film industry to Kauai, former Kauai Film Commissioner Judy Drosd, who quit because lack of support from Kusaka and Kapali, strongly recommended the authority remain within county government rather than be handed over to a private nonprofit.

Drosd said that many of the obstacles faced by film producers involve permits "to go places and do things that no one else in the world can do." She said it is vital for a film commissioner to work under a mayor who is willing to order county agencies to expedite permits for film crews.

Drosd, who is now working as a consultant, was film commissioner for 10 years. In 2001, film crews spent $11.4 million on Kauai. This year no motion pictures or television shows were filmed on Kauai.

Baptiste said he plans to keep the function within county government.

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