The future of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) could be in jeopardy as state lawmakers passed a bill that would cut dedicated funding.
According to Honolulu Star-Announcer, 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 HTA’s fiscal year 2023 budget starts at zero and the agency will have to justify why it should receive general funds.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige has until June 21 to veto the legislation, which he says would make it nearly impossible for the HTA to carry out multi-year efforts, like the HTA Action Plan program. destination management.
“I’m 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’s creating over 200,000 jobs, and we’re not going to have an economic recovery until the visitor industry recovers.
Before the pandemic, the HTA was the foundation of a thriving tourism industry, which recorded 10.4 million visitor arrivals in 2019. The local government, however, cut funding for the agency for years, the budget from $82 million to $79 million in 2018 and maintaining the proposed reduction at $60 million.
The COVID-19 outbreak has also shaken residents’ sentiment toward tourism, with some travelers not adhering to health and safety protocols and the spread of illegal vacation rentals in neighborhoods causing trouble 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 of the state’s economy depends on tourism.
“The Governor, when meeting with myself and the Board, was very supportive and re-emphasized the importance of HTA leading the visitor industry at a critical time for support not just the revival of tourism, but the sustained revival of Hawaii’s tourism-led 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 is still considering the options available to them,” continued De Fries. “It’s like trying to diffuse an explosive. It is not easy.”