HONOLULU, HI – More than 130 businesses and other groups that had planned to travel to Hawaii for conventions and meetings have canceled their trips so far this year because of the recent backlash against such company-sponsored events, state tourism officials said yesterday.
The cancellations cost the state an estimated US$58.8 million in direct loss of revenue, amounting to a total economic impact of US$97.6 million, according to Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle’s office.
The estimates were included in a letter sent to President Obama this week urging him to support the market for “conventions, meetings, and incentives” travel.
Lingle released the letter publicly yesterday, which she and the lieutenant governor signed along with the county mayors and 90 tourism and community officials.
“This 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,” the letter said. In addition to the lost revenue, the cancellations have resulted in the loss of 694 full- and part-time jobs from all of the visitor industry, according to the letter.
Las Vegas Mayor
The letter was a response to the president’s comments discouraging corporate excess made nearly two months ago.
On February 9 during a town hall meeting in Indiana, Obama said Wall Street executives must show restraint if they expect government help. “You can’t get corporate jets. You can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime.”
The White House later clarified the president’s remarks after the Mayor of Las Vegas sent a letter to Obama saying the comments were hurting the city’s tourism business.
In a media briefing on March 12, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama did not intend to discourage travel with his remarks. Gibbs said the president was referring specifically to companies “that are getting large amounts of public funding.”
“Let’s be clear about what the president said. I don’t think the president said, ‘Don’t go to Las Vegas’ or ‘Don’t go to Hawaii’ or ‘Don’t go to the Super Bowl,” Gates told reporters at a briefing.
“What the president expressed some concern about was companies that are getting large amounts of public funding, taxpayer funding, through a financial stabilization plan, that the president does have great concern with public money being used for that.
“But the president believes it’s important to have a strong tourism industry and that it’s important that … that we shouldn’t retrench or pull back from; that he would encourage people to travel,” Gibbs said.
Key part of the mix
Tourism advocates who met with Obama praised the White House statement.
The Lingle letter stressed that people who come to the Islands for conventions, meetings, and incentive rewards are a very important part of the visitor mix. In 2008, those visitors totaled 442,000, representing about 7 percent of total visitor arrivals.
The letter continued: “In this period of economic downturn when our government and businesses are striving to restore economic stability, the last thing we should do is implement policies or encourage behavior that jeopardizes any industry, especially one that has such a far-reaching impact on communities all across America.”
It further raises concerns “about the adverse effects caused by the well-intentioned efforts to address the problem of corporate excess and business travel for the companies who have received emergency finding from the government.”
That perception is fueling a further downturn in business travel in Hawaii, “where we have struggled to position our islands as a place to do business, as well as a leisure vacation destination,” it said.
The letter concludeD: “We appreciate your recent comments encouraging travel and urge you to oppose any measure that would unfairly restrict the ability for companies to use CMI travel as a legitimate business tool.”