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Hawaii Tourism Authority decries budget allotment

HONOLULU — Just hours after the state House Finance Committee unanimously approved the operating and capital budget for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 fiscal years, Hawai‘i Tourism Authority’s President and CEO John De Fries issued a statement citing “extreme concern” with his agency’s allocated funding.

The $18.9 billion state budget measure, formally House Bill 300, appropriates $35 million for the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. DeFries said the agency is “grateful” for the money, but noted it is $40 million less than their budget request of $75 million for the 2023-24 fiscal year.

“This will cause significant across-the-board funding cuts that will impact HTA’s operations, destination management and visitor education programs we fund in our communities and in markets around the world, and the cultures events, festivals and sporting events we support,” said De Fries.

De Fries called the decision to cut funding “not a prudent approach,” given predictions of a global recession and its potential impact on Hawai‘i.

The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority is also requesting $60 million for fiscal year 2024-25 and beyond. DeFries says the funding is necessary to continue the implementation of the agency’s 2020-25 Strategic Plan and Destination Management Action Plans.

“We will continue to work with our legislators to demonstrate the importance of having a well-funded, comprehensive program for destination management and visitor education to serve the people of Hawai‘i,” he said.

The March 8 statement from the state House, announcing the Finance Committee’s approval of the state budget, did not mention the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority.

Instead, it emphasized “deferred maintenance and natural resources,” which will prioritize projects including repairing facilities and restoring parks, forests and ocean resources. “Additionally, Medicaid, health care, kupuna care, homeless services, climate change and affordable housing remain priority issues for the residents of Hawai‘i,” said Finance Chair Kyle Yamashita (D-District 12).

HB 300 is now headed to the House floor, and is anticipated to crossover to the Senate on March 15, according to the statement.

Other legislation, introduced earlier this year, asks to dissolve the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority to change the way tourism is handled throughout the state. The two bills, one from the House and one from the Senate, propose replacing the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority with a new office.

House Bill 1575, introduced by state Rep. Sean Quinlan (D-District 47), would restructure the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority as the “Hawai‘i Destination Management Agency.” It asks to transfer the duties and positions to a new office, dissolve the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, and appropriate funds.

Similarly, Senate Bill 1522, introduced by Sen. Donovan M. Dela Cruz (D-District 17), states “the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority has failed to effectively execute its duties to manage the tourism marketing plan for the State.” The bill says that “due to mismanagement,” the agency’s $34 million contract has been in a state of uncertainty since 2021.

SB 1522 also states it “is necessary and appropriate to dissolve the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority,” and replace the agency with an “office of tourism and destination management.”

DeFries was not immediately available for comment on the proposed measures.

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Emma Grunwald, reporter, can be reached 808-245-0441 or egrunwald@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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