LIHU‘E — The future of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority is hanging by a thread, as the final version of the state budget leaves no funding for the struggling agency.
The budget was unanimously approved in a conference committee meeting between the state House and state Senate on Tuesday night.
The budget, which appropriates $21.7 billion for the general fund in 2024 and 2025, includes zero operational dollars for the HTA.
The budget, known as House Bill 300, does appropriate $64 million to fix the roof of the Hawai‘i Convention Center, which is where the HTA is headquartered. The center’s annual budget of $4 million to $4.5 million comes from the HTA’s operating budget.
HB 300 is now headed to both chambers for a final vote, and will then be sent to Gov. Josh Green for consideration.
It’s unclear how the HTA will move forward, as the agency had requested $75 million in operational funding for the 2023-2024 fiscal year and $60 million for fiscal year 2024-2025. Ilihia Gionson, the HTA’s public affairs officer, was not immediately available for comment.
Aside from the lack of funding, the HTA is also up against two other bills that seek to dismantle the agency and replace it will another entity.
House Bill 1375, introduced by state Rep. Sean Quinlan (D-District 47), and Senate Bill 1522, introduced by state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D-District 17), would repeal the HTA and replace it with an Office of Tourism and Destination Management within the state Department of Business, Economic Development &Tourism. The office would be governed by a nine-member board of directors from a variety of backgrounds.
Both bills state that it’s “necessary and appropriate” to dissolve the HTA due to its handling of tourism.
HB 1375 is scheduled for a conference committee meeting on April 28 at 10 a.m. In its current form, the bill would take effect July 1.
The HTA’s leaders criticized both bills in a press conference last week, saying that replacing the agency would cost the state millions in federal funding and only add to tourism challenges.
The HTA was established in 1998 to promote tourism across the Hawaiian Islands, but has faced criticism in recent years, especially with residents’ complaints of over-tourism. Since 2020, the agency has rebranded itself with a focus on regenerative tourism, and has implemented Destination Management Action Plans across the Hawaiian Islands.
Emma Grunwald, reporter, can be reached 808-652-0638 or email@example.com.
Source: The Garden Island
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