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Obama urged to support business travel to isles


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POSTED: Friday, April 03, 2009

Citing an economic loss of $97.6 million to Hawaii this year since business travel came under federal scrutiny, Gov. Linda Lingle has asked President Barack Obama to oppose any measure that unfairly restricts companies' ability to use conventions, meetings and incentive (CMI) travel as a legitimate business tool.

Lingle's letter, sent Tuesday and signed by other key politicians and members of Hawaii's visitor industry, provides the first account of the staggering losses sustained by the state since business groups began canceling Hawaii trips.

               

     

 

BUSINESS BUST

       

        This year alone, Hawaii has lost:
       

» $97.6 million in total estimated economic impact.

       

» $58.8 million in direct economic impact.

       

» 694 full- and part-time jobs.

       

» 132 group bookings.

       

» 87,003 hotel room nights.

       

Source: Gov. Linda Lingle

       

"The current atmosphere that brands legitimate CMI travel as excess has resulted in 132 group cancellations of meetings and incentive trips to Hawaii so far this year and next, representing a loss of 87,003 room nights," Lingle said in her letter.

So far, Hawaii has lost $58.8 million in direct revenue; however, Lingle said the state's total impact is much higher and includes the elimination of some 694 full- and part-time jobs.

"Hawaii's businesses and residents cannot afford to suffer such continued losses that can and should be avoided," she said.

State Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert said Lingle's numbers came from a survey conducted last month and that Hawaii is vulnerable to more cancellations.

Through February, Hawaii's MCI market had fallen 27.5 percent to 79,647 visitors from a year-ago 109,902, said Daniel Nahoopii, chief of the tourism research branch for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Market share also shrank from 9.3 percent of Hawaii's total visitors during the first two months of last year to 7.8 percent this year, he said.

Business travel to Hawaii began falling last year as the recession hit and has stalled further since Obama and Congress asked companies that received emergency government lending to develop business travel guidelines. Now, Hawaii's government officials and visitor industry members fear that the state could be hurt further if Congress restricts travel for companies that are part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

"President Obama has eased his comments recently, but there is still a lot of rhetoric in Congress," Wienert said. "If restrictions are passed, it would be terrible, another nail in the coffin."

Successful leisure destinations like Hawaii and Las Vegas have been the hardest hit by the backlash, she said.

"It's because we've done such a good job positioning ourselves as a leisure destination. I mean, no one would fault anyone for a corporate meeting in Omaha," she said.

Hawaii needs to get across the message that while the image of travel is glamorous and fun, there are legitimate reasons for business and reward travel, said Lorena B. Horiuchi, program chairwoman for the Hawaii Business Travel Association.

"Business travel shouldn't be vilified," Horiuchi said. "TARP was meant to stimulate the financial sector, but it's negatively impacted business travel and Hawaii's economy."

A discussion on how Hawaii can get past the unintentional consequences of TARP on business travel will take place at a half-day conference sponsored by HBTA. Shane Downey, government relations manager for the National Business Travel Association, will be the keynote speaker at the event on May 6 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Horiuchi said.

Jerry Gibson, vice president and area director for Hilton in Hawaii, said Hilton properties across the islands have lost millions due to government recommendations. If Wells Fargo had not canceled, it would have brought 11,000 room nights to Hawaii next month, Gibson said. LPL (Financial), IBM and Hewlett-Packard, among others, have canceled events, too, he said.

"We are still in an economic downturn, so people are thinking about whether they should travel," he said. "Hopefully, President Obama will read the letter that we sent and reconsider several of his positions."