New bill jeopardizes funding for Hawaii Board of Tourism

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The future of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) could be at risk as state lawmakers passed a bill that would cut dedicated funding.

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, House Bill 862 was passed by officials in Hawaii last week and would eliminate the dedicated funding HTA receives. If the bill becomes law, the ETS’s fiscal year 2023 budget starts at zero and the agency will need to justify why it should receive general funds.

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Hawaii Governor David Ige has until June 21 to veto the legislation, which he says would make it nearly impossible for the ETS to lead multi-year efforts, like the destination management.

“I am disappointed with what happened with HTA. Losing dedicated funding is a big deal, ”Ige told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “The visitor industry is the # 1 industry in this state; it creates over 200,000 jobs, and we will not have an economic recovery until the tourism industry recovers.

Before the pandemic, the HTA was the bedrock of a thriving tourism industry, which recorded 10.4 million visitor arrivals in 2019. The local government, however, has cut funding for the agency for years as the budget grew. to $ 79 million, from $ 82 million in 2018 and now the proposed reduction to $ 60 million.

The COVID-19 outbreak has also shaken residents’ sentiment towards tourism, with some travelers breaking health and safety protocols and the spread of illegal vacation rentals in neighborhoods causing problems with locals.

HTA CEO John De Fries said that “for every dollar spent by HTA, the agency returned $ 20 to the state” in 2019, but the group’s primary focus was now regenerative tourism. De Fries said the rebound in the state’s economy depended on tourism.

“The Governor, when speaking with myself and the Board of Directors, was very supportive and reaffirmed the importance of HTA leading the visitor industry at a critical time to support no not only the revival of tourism, but also the sustained revival of the tourism-led Hawaiian economy, ”De Fries told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

“At the same time, he expressed real concern about the HB 862 and indicated that his team are still studying the options available to them,” De Fries continued. “It’s like trying to fire an explosive. It is not easy.”



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