Resort travel policy could burn Hawaii


POSTED: Saturday, July 25, 2009

Government officials always have been vulnerable to criticism for traveling to Hawaii on official business, but some federal agencies are taking the extra step of initiating guidelines to discourage travel to resort locations. The feds should back away from a policy that could cause serious harm to an important segment of the hospitality industry.

Internal e-mails obtained by the U.S. Travel Association indicate that the departments of Homeland Security, Agriculture and Justice should avoid travel to spots seen as extravagant in favor of more mundane cities. In a May e-mail, the Justice Department “;decided conference(s) are not to be held in cities that are vacation destinations/spa/resort/gambling,”; the Wall Street Journal reported.

Specifically, the e-mails listed Chicago, Denver, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Kansas City, Portland, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., as acceptable destinations. The hit list included Orlando, Fla., Las Vegas and Reno. Hawaii was not cited, probably because it was too obvious to need mentioning.

When the annual Asia-Pacific Homeland Security Summit and Exposition was held in Waikiki in 2004, the mainland media zeroed in on then-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and several aides relaxing by a resort pool. ABC News reported that Ridge and other top department officials “;could be found basking in the warm Hawaiian sun for a meeting they said was essential government business.”;

In April, Gov. Linda Lingle, 90 business leaders and the state's four mayors urged President Obama to oppose restrictions on companies receiving federal funds from using business meeting “;as a legitimate business tool.”; By that time, 132 groups and companies already had canceled meetings and incentive trips to Hawaii in the first three months of this year, causing a loss of $98 million to the state's economy.

Some 442,000 business travelers—7 percent of all visitors—attended meetings in Hawaii last year. Government officials often appear on forums at such meetings, as Ridge did five years ago. If they are unable to make such appearances in Hawaii, businesses and associations may be discouraged from convening in the islands.

Hawaii, which should prepare to be “;hammered,”; probably will not be as damaged by the guidelines as Orlando and Las Vegas because “;most of the government stuff that we do here comes from the local or Pacific Rim markets,”; said David Lewin, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa.

The guidelines could put at risk Hawaii's competition with San Francisco and Los Angeles as host of the next Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, an international organization, said Jerry Gibson, area vice president of Hilton Hawaii.