New bill jeopardizes funding for Hawaii Tourism Board
The future of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) could be jeopardized as state lawmakers passed 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 earmarked funding HTA receives. If the bill becomes law, the HTA’s 2023 budget year will start from zero and the agency would need to justify why it should receive general funding.
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Hawaii Governor David Ige has until June 21st to veto legislation that would make it nearly impossible for the HTA to carry out multi-year efforts like the Destination Management Action Plan program.
“I am disappointed with what happened to HTA. Loss of earmarked funding is a big problem, ”Ige told the Honolulu Star Advertiser. “The visitor industry is No. 1 in this state; it creates more than 200,000 jobs, and we won’t have an economic recovery until the visitor industry recovers. “
Before the pandemic, the HTA was the foundation of a thriving tourism industry, which had 10.4 million visitors in 2019. However, local government has cut funding for the agency for years, with the budget slipping from $ 82 million to $ 79 million in 2018 and now the proposed cut to $ 60 million.
The COVID-19 outbreak also shook residents’ sentiment towards tourism as some travelers failed to follow health and safety protocols and the proliferation of illegal vacation rentals in neighborhoods created problems with locals.
HTA CEO John De Fries said “for every dollar HTA spent, the agency returned $ 20 to the state in 2019,” but the group’s primary focus was now on regenerative tourism. De Fries said the state’s economic recovery depends on tourism.
“The governor, when he met me and the board of directors, was very supportive of me and reiterated the importance of HTA leading the visitor industry at a critical time in order not only to revitalize tourism, but also to sustainably revitalize tourism to sustain Hawaii‘s cited economy. De Fries told the Honolulu Star Advertiser.
“At the same time, he expressed great concern about HB 862 and indicated that his team is still examining what options it has,” continued De Fries. “It’s like trying to distribute an explosive. It is not easy.”