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Is Hawaiian Culture a Commodity to be horse traded through tourism?

Mr. De Fries is the president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA). He has been quiet since COVID-19 brought tourism from a record high to numbers that could hardly be measured. Now visitors are coming back to Hawaii in record numbers despite the pandemic, and the person in charge of Hawaii Tourism is upset with the Hawaii Senate Committee for Ways and Means, John de Fries is the first Hawaiian CEO of the State agency in charge of tourism.

Earlier this week Patricia Herman, the VP of Marketing and Development for HTA was a guest on a global discussion about the future of Tourism to the Aloha State.
In her presentation, she clearly concentrated less on how to increase number and get business. She put the cultural aspect her boss is giving so much priority to into the center of her presentation. Watch:

Today Pat’s boss issued the following statement in responding to the Hawaii Senate Committees on Ways and Means and Commerce and Consumer Protection and Health for what De Fries phrased as using a last-minute gut and replace maneuver to pass a bill that dramatically alters how Hawaii’s tourism agency will represent the State and its efforts to collaborate with the community and reset tourism in a regenerative manner. 


“My gratitude is extended to the more than 200 individuals and organizations who testified against the HTA-related amendments in HB862, HD2, Proposed SD2, which will essentially negate HTA’s capacity and mission to manage Hawaii tourism toward a future that is balanced and sustainable. As concerned citizens you came from all walks of life to make your manao known, only to learn that we have much more work to do at the Legislature in the two weeks ahead. We must grow the awareness and focus our message toward the multitude of legislators who care about Hawaii’s future.

Background Information

Today the Hawaii Senate Committees on Ways and Means and Commerce and Consumer Protection passed the amendments made to Proposed SD2 of House Bill 862. The two committees received nearly 300 pages of written testimony, most of which were in opposition to the parts of the measure that would affect HTA’s ability to fund programs and events that focused on Hawaiian culture, natural resources, and community – which are three of HTA’s strategic, interacting pillars. The amendments made to the Proposed SD2 version would:

  • Reestablish HTA’s existing Hawaiian culture programs under the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.
  • Reestablish the three Hawaiian culture positions – the director of Hawaiian Cultural Affairs and two program specialists currently under HTA under the State Foundation of Culture and Arts for the management of these programs. 
  • Appropriate $3.7 million from the general fund to cover the existing grant programs – perpetuating the Hawaiian culture and community requirements and events, and that will also include $350,000 to be used to cover the positions and salaries and fringe.
  • Include $4 million in HTA’s budget for sporting events.
  • Mandate that HTA and its contractors work with the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts as a resource to assist with HTA’s efforts in marketing to the visitor industry to ensure marketing is culturally sensitive.

The latest version of HB862 changes the source of HTA’s funding from a special fund through the Transient Accommodations Tax (TAT) to the general fund, which means HTA will no longer have the ability to carry over unspent funds and will lose flexibility.

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About the author

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.