Hawaii tourism

In a new era for Hawaii tourism, a former partner is not going quietly: Travel Weekly

It’s been more than a month since the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), the government agency responsible for supporting tourism in Aloha State, upended its US destination management program by not renewing its contract with the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB), its longtime business partner.

Following a request for proposals, the HTA said in early June that it had awarded the multi-year, multimillion-dollar contract to the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, a nonprofit organization widely known for helping the Native Hawaiian community through cultural and economic programs.

The change is still in transition, but the HVCB is not going quietly.

For more decades than anyone can remember, the HVCB has been entrusted with the responsibility for the management of the American brand and visitor education services by the HTA. So when the contract was awarded to a new organization, it would be an understatement to say it was an unexpected turn of events. Part of the shock of the status quo is that many people who sell Hawaii but are not based in the state are unaware of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement.

But its presence in the Islands is not negligible. The council manages $100 million in annual program revenue and employs nearly 100 people in six divisions, including advocacy and community programs.

“The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement is honored that the Hawaii Tourism Authority has entrusted us with the task of bringing about the change that Hawaii has long demanded from our tourism industry,” the group said in a statement.

Shortly after the award was announced, the HVCB filed a protest and, as part of the appeal process, the proposals are being reviewed by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. State. Meanwhile, the HVCB’s contract has been extended until September 28.

“After speaking with HTA President and CEO John De Fries, we have agreed that granting this extension is in the best interests of our state and creates the necessary time frame in which the protest can be resolved,” said department director Mike McCartney.

Overtourism at the center of concerns

A segment of Hawaiians have long complained about the ever-increasing number of tourists to the islands, pointing to overcrowding in natural areas, traffic congestion and environmental damage.

During the pandemic, residents got a glimpse of what the islands looked like without the tourists: nearly empty beaches and hiking trails and drastically reduced traffic. This prompted something of a wake-up call, and when visitor arrivals to Hawaii again broke records once pandemic restrictions were lifted, concern only grew.

In 2020, De Fries was named CEO of the HTA, the first Hawaiian native to hold this position. He oversaw the development of destination management plans involving local stakeholders, the addition of reservation systems at popular tourist sites, and the creation of the Malama program which emphasizes connecting visitors to local businesses and communities. .

What’s behind the change?

Yet many local travel industry partners are unsure why the HTA chose the council over its longtime partner and what made its proposition more attractive. Representatives from the HTA, HVCB and council declined to be interviewed for this story.

“Hawai’i finds itself in an unpredictable sea of ​​climate change, overtourism, economic instability and global pandemics,” Kuhio Lewis, the council’s CEO, wrote in its RFP for the HTA contract.

Lewis added, “Our love for Hawai’i and its people compels us to ensure the long-term vibrancy of our natural environment, our culture and our people. As a natural consequence, we will also ensure that Hawai’i remains a top destination for travelers from around the world.”

The council’s proposal includes the creation of the Kilohana Collective, a separate division that would oversee tourism with a management team and contractor partners. It was recently announced that Douglas Chang, General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach, has been named Chair of the Kilohana Collective Transition Team.

Other members include Micah Kane, CEO of the Hawaii Community Foundation, and Aaron Sala, director of cultural affairs at the Royal Hawaiian Center and former president of the HTA.

The original HVCB proposal also addressed community concerns. The office’s vision, according to the proposal, pursues a regenerative tourism path that puts residents first. It moves from “visitor-focused marketing to resident-focused messaging”.

“The reality is that [the council] has done a fantastic job of building trust in Hawaiian and local communities over its 20 year history. HVCB has done a fantastic job of bringing quality visitors to Hawaii as long as it has managed visitor engagement with our islands,” said Kekoa McClellan, speaking on behalf of the Hawaii Hotel Alliance.

Keep the destination in mind

Until a decision is made whether to go ahead with the board or decline its offer, some in the industry say they feel in limbo.

“We have no relationship with anyone at [the council]while we had deep, long-term relationships with everyone at HVCB,” said Jack Richards, CEO of Pleasant Holidays, who has twice served on the office’s board.

The HVCB is, in part, supported by members of the tourism community – Pleasant Holidays is a member – and Richards said member benefits include access to data and research, sales and marketing materials and training and education events for travel counsellors.

“They are very supportive of our sales and marketing initiatives to keep the Hawaii brand top of mind over competing destinations, and I think that’s one of the questions that needs to be asked of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement. How are you going to keep the Hawaii brand ahead of competing destinations?” Richards, adding that the state’s main competitors are Mexico, the Caribbean and French Polynesia.

“Things are slowing down for 2022 and 2023, so I think it’s very, very important that whoever gets this contract maintains the momentum to keep Hawaii in the lead,” he said.

Competitors, he said, “know that right now Hawaii is in the midst of a contract dispute for tourism marketing and management. They are aggressively marketing their destinations to entice people to come to Mexico and In the Caribbean”.