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Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, October 26, 2000

Tourism authority
is a big plus

GOOD things do happen, even in the political world -- and one of them is the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

It has brought sense and long-range planning into the way we guide and promote the largest sector of Hawaii's economy. Until it came along, the visitor industry was a political beggar, limited to short-range planning. It had to go before the Legislature every year to justify its parsimonious budget.

HTA is still a political creature -- still conscious that everything it does is monitored by people with very widely varied interests.

But it is part of a process through which most people, in the visitor industry and outside it, have come to recognize that the success (or failure) of the industry -- about 26 percent of gross state product -- affects the entire economy.

Credit the awakening as one of the pluses from Governor Cayetano's Economic Revitalization Task Force, which fingered vastly increased tourism spending as important to all of us in Hawaii.

The 1998 Legislature put this enlarged spending -- now at $60 million a year -- under oversight of the Tourism Authority, which it told to take a community-wide view, far broader than that of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, which it now employs to do its old job better.

"Better" because instead of tracking just East-West visitor spending, it now has specific goals for 10 target markets: the U.S. west of the Rockies, the U.S. east of the Rockies, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Japan, other Asian areas, Oceania, the rest of the world and conventions at the Hawaii Convention Center.

To gain the high visibility that comes from nationally televised sports events, special additional spending is used to keep the National Football League Pro Bowl here and to assure six to seven nationally televised golf tournaments in Hawaii each year.

Underwriting went to this year's important Honolulu meeting of the Pacific Basin Economic Council and will go to the 2001 meeting of the Asian Development Bank.

HTA strongly supports expansion of cruise ship activity in Hawaii and will lobby for, but not fund, improvements of neighbor island port facilities to accommodate it.

To broaden community rapport, HTA held statewide hearings on what communities want from tourism. It shapes some 100 smaller items of spending to meet specific needs.

The HTA board, appointed by the governor -- but with two members each recommended by the Senate president and House speaker -- includes VIPs from our three biggest hotel groups and the airlines.

They contribute expertise that goes far beyond self-interest in devising plans to grow per capita visitor spending in six areas: aviation, ground transportation, hotels, attractions, restaurants and retailing.

State and county regulations limit resort-area development. HTA is fighting a court action to require environmental review of its spending on the grounds environmental concerns already are reviewed by the state and counties -- and, if ordered, such reviews might interrupt its promotions for months.

HTA has chosen an executive director in Robert F. Fishman with political sensitivities honed in top state and city-county administrative positions. This is a far more astute choice in my view than bringing in a whiz-bang mainlander insensitive to island needs and politics.

HTA this weekend will leave its downtown Honolulu offices to relocate at the Hawaii Convention Center, which now is under its wing, and brings with it $14 million for promotion and operations beyond the basic $60 million allocation.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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