HTA delays releasing $1.6M in marketing funding


POSTED: Friday, December 12, 2008
This story has been corrected. See below.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority yesterday was forced to postpone action on releasing further marketing funds for the state's troubled industry after rain-related travel delays prevented the board from keeping a quorum.

The HTA was expected to discuss releasing $1.6 million in additional marketing funds to help shore up the emerging Korea, Japan and meetings, incentive and convention markets and another $100,000 for Sabre Airline Solutions to boost flight efforts, but there was not enough time to take action.

“;Any decisions that will move forward marketing should be made quickly. It's a priority,”; said Sharon Weiner, an HTA board member, who sits on the marketing committee.

The HTA board is not slated to meet again until Jan. 22.

As a result of the delay, HTA marketing contractors can continue existing programs, but they will not have money for any new initiatives until action is taken, said David Uchiyama, HTA's vice president of tourism marketing.

“;They still have base funding but the additional funds were to be used to put additional emphasis on driving business to the islands,”; Uchiyama said.

While North America remains Hawaii's primary market, Uchiyama said Hawaii needs to further develop other markets. Although the Korean won is currently low, the market has good long-term potential for Hawaii due to its recent admittance to the United States' visa waiver program, he said.

Also, Hawaii's Japan market is poised for recovery now that the yen is stronger and customers are getting some relief from high fuel surcharges, Uchiyama said.

“;We can't change the stock market and the valuation of the Korean won, but we can make sure that we are front and center and maintain our image,”; Weiner said. “;We need to be poised and judicious about how we spend marketing money.”;

Not everyone supports these proposed marketing allocations, which have come at the expense of some of the state's highest-visibility tourism programs. To free up marketing dollars, the HTA took action Nov. 6 to reduce spending limits for 2009 to $71 million, a nearly 20 percent drop from its earlier proposed budget.

The HTA's decision to cut special fund spending by roughly $17 million eliminated tourism funding for the greeting program that brings Hawaiian music, hula and aloha to visitors at the state's airports, harbors and cruise ships as well as Sunset on the Beach and the evening hula and torch lighting at Kuhio Beach.

  “;There is great concern that all of the progress made in the past few years to restore Hawaiian culture and values in the visitor industry and engage Hawaiians in tourism is being dismantled,”; said Lulani Arquette, executive director of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association.

Retired hotel executive Kathleen Harrington said that eliminating free offerings from Hawaii at a time when travelers are price sensitive seems counterintuitive.

“;Why spend millions on an advertising campaign about value and not have free things to promote,”; Harrington said. “;I know people who have been coming to Hawaii for years that have stopped because they say that there are charges for everything.”;






        Retired hotel executive Kathleen Harrington's last name was misspelled as Herrington in the original version of this story.