Hawaii Governor plans to juggle tourism dollars


“The truth is that our canoe, which is our beloved Hawaii, could capsize. We are in that unnerving moment, when we could all huli, when we could turn over. All of us are at risk, and all of us have to face this,” Hawaii Governor Abercrombie said, painted an alarming picture in his State of the State address on Monday, January 24:

“I will also reallocate funds from the Hawaii Tourism Authority to basic government services such as environmental protection, improvements to public facilities, and advancing culture and the arts. The amount we are spending in the name of marketing Hawaii has grown disproportionate to the amount we need to spend on Hawaii’s own infrastructure, social as well as physical. We need to reprioritize and reinvest in our Hawaii—in the things that make our islands unique.”

The governor proposed diverting about US$10 million out of the US$72.8 million the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) receives in marketing funds.

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz of the privately-run Hawaii Tourism Association (HiTA), which is not affiliated with HTA, said: “The Governor understands the problems we’re all facing here in Hawaii. The Governor also understands the importance of tourism for our social welfare. I estimate at least 75% of all employment in Hawaii is directly or indirectly associated with the tourism industry. This industry is too important to experiment with. HiTA understands the challenges HTA is facing, but feels continuing with business as usual is not an option.

“We do not take enough advantage of our unique global brand of the Aloha Spirit. HTA has not done enough to maintain this global trademark for Hawaii. I went to 72 tourism and travel trade shows last year – trade shows in 57 countries – and I failed to see Hawaii at 69 of these events. Hawaii is not represented in global discussions. I just learned Hawaii has not even one member in the International Hotel & Restaurant Association. The new Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association president, former Mayor Hannemann, did not respond to eTurboNews’ and HiTA’s repeated requests for communication. Hawaii is not represented at most global networking events. You won’t find much of Hawaii to be involved at initiatives supported by UNWTO (UN World Tourism Organization, WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council), tourism investment forums, global tourism marketing events, meeting and incentive industry opportunities, airline and airport communication events, or international think tanks. Hawaii doesn’t capitalize on the fact that people in Europe love Hawaiian music, that music and food are an important element to promote tourism for the Thai Tourism Authority. Hawaii has much to learn to take advantage of such media avenues and cost-effective ways to be part of a global stage.

“We have a unique global brand. It does not take a lot of money in today’s world of technology to cater to this. Take the Seychelles as an example. The current CEO of the government-run Seychelles Tourism Board is Alain St. Ange. Alain has been the Seychelles ambassador for Hawaii-based global news publication eTurboNews for many years. Inspired by this idea to build a network of global tourism ambassadors, the Seychelles has developed an effective system with almost zero investment. The Seychelles has also built a global network of ‘Friends of the Seychelles’ journalists.”

Because of Seychelles’ fresh approach to tourism, a new record has been set by the number of tourists visiting Seychelles during 2010. The 2010 visitor arrival numbers is double the total population of the Seychelles or four times the working population of the island nation. The success of their tourism industry comes in the wake of a number of changes in operations, personnel, and marketing strategies that have been put in place since 2009, when Alain St. Ange took the helm of the industry as part of a government-private sector initiative to inject new dynamism into the tourism sector.

“I am the first person to say that the success we are witnessing is very much due to team effort and also to our determination to harness all available resources in our effort to grow visitor numbers such as our Seychelles Tourism Ambassadors program and Friends of the Press – Seychelles,” stated Mr.St. Ange.

Hawaii Tourism Association (HiTA) president Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has been a strong supporter of such a program for Hawaii to maintain its global brand and discover more tourism opportunities for the Aloha state. “Niche markets like India, Europe, Gulf Region, Brazil, and Argentina may feel like it is not that important right now, but the way our global world is working – we will be overtaken by competitors if we don’t even identify the competition at this time.”

HiTA president Steinmetz continued: “HiTA is ready to share our global experience, and I feel strongly that with allocating current funding the right way, we can maintain not only our increasing arrival numbers from the domestic market, but re-establish our global brand.

“I share with the Governor his vision for the need to improve of our infrastructure and to give those visitors a reason to re-visit our state, instead of us investing our hard-to-come-by marketing dollars into a one shot deal. If Hawaii has to invest $40 to bring a visitor one time, the investment would be only 5 for a visitor coming to our State 8 times over time. HiTA is ready to set up a global ambassador program for Hawaii and undertake virtual or telephone workshops to educate the global travel industry on how to sell our destination. As the chair of the US Department of Commerce Export council here in Hawaii, I feel our industry should take better advantage of opportunities provided by the US Department of Commerce and our global network of offices in the US Consulates around the world.

“HiTA, as an organization of volunteers, is ready to assist, but so far it has been difficult to relate our side of the story to those in charge. The Governor asked to submit ideas. HiTA had submitted many ideas, but has yet see a two-way stream of communication with the Governor’s office or HTA. HiTA hopes with the help of our industry to be able to do its share of volunteer work and share its vision with the public.”