Isle tourism officials bemoan advisory on resort meetings


POSTED: Friday, July 24, 2009

Further restrictions on business travel, this time at the government level, could widen losses for Hawaii's visitor industry, which lost more than $97.6 million this year from the private-sector pullback in conventions, meetings and incentive travel.

Federal agencies such as the FBI and Department of Agriculture are encouraging government conferences to be held at locations that aren't resort destinations and don't appear to be “;lavish,”; according to a Wall Street Journal article published Wednesday that cited e-mails from those two departments.

Those cities on the suggested list are Chicago; Denver; Portland, Ore.; St. Louis; Washington, D.C.; Milwaukee; and Phoenix.

Among those on the “;blacklist,”; according to the newspaper, are Reno, Nev.; Orlando, Fla.; and Las Vegas. While Hawaii wasn't specifically mentioned in the article, the islands are widely regarded as a resort destination.

Business travel to Hawaii began falling last year as the recession hit and continued dropping as President Barack Obama, Congress and some taxpayers called for companies that received emergency government lending to develop guidelines on conferences, events and employee recognition programs. Caution spread throughout the entire private sector as companies like Wells Fargo were pilloried for planned junkets. Now, Hawaii's government officials and visitor members fear the state could be hurt further when the other shoe, the government sector, drops.

“;We are going to get hammered some more,”; said David Lewin, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa. “;It's a huge shoe. It's more like a boot.”;

Lewin said the so-called blacklist is going to affect Las Vegas and Orlando more because “;most of the government stuff that we do here comes from the local or Pacific Rim markets.”;

However, with incentive travel to Hawaii at a standstill, further restrictions on corporate travel to the isles cannot be good, said Sen. Brickwood Galuteria, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Tourism.

Galuteria (D, Downtown-Waikiki) said he's adding his voice to those politicians from Nevada and Florida who told the Associated Press yesterday that they were outraged that some federal agencies had blacklisted them as conference or meeting destinations.





        Cities that topped an internal Department of Agriculture list of approved destinations for agency meetings and conventions were located in travel hubs and known for being low-cost, non-resort destinations. News flash: Hawaii was not on the list.

» Chicago


» Denver


» Portland, Ore.


» St. Louis


» Washington, D.C.


» Milwaukee


» Phoenix


Source: Wall Street Journal


“;I concur with my colleagues in Florida and Nevada, although we are in competition with those destinations,”; Galuteria said. “;We all know that we can be leisure destinations and handle serious business.”;

Hawaii's hard work to succeed as a resort destination has long interfered with the visitor industry's efforts to strike a balance between business and leisure travel, he said.

“;We need to increase efforts to achieve more balance between leisure and group business travel, but it's difficult,”; Galuteria said. “;We are doing this in a climate where people tend to feel that the business traveler who comes to Hawaii will be holding their meeting under a coconut tree with a mai tai in hand.”;

While Hawaii has not had any major government meeting cancellations, the state has continued to lose business-related private-sector travel, said state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert.

“;It's counterintuitive to have a policy restriction at the government level,”; Wienert said.

The government is offering a stimulus package to kick-start the economy; however, it becomes “;anti-stimulus when the government begins to select where an entity should meet and conduct business,”; said Jerry Gibson, area vice president of Hilton Hawaii.

“;I think we should go under the assumption that we as adults can choose the most attractive location, which offers the best use of the allotted budget,”; Gibson said.

It's vital that Hawaii's visitor industry and government leaders continue aggressively campaigning for group travel business, Galuteria said.

Hawaii is in the running with San Francisco and Los Angeles to host the next Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, he said. Sealing that deal would go a long way toward building confidence among business travel decision makers, Galuteria said.