HTA shuffle must spawn fresh ideas
It's no wonder that the Hawai'i Tourism Authority "tilted" toward hotel interests with such titans on the board as W. David P. Carey III, president and chief executive officer of Outrigger Enterprises Inc.; Keith Vieira, senior vice president of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide; and Peter Schall, senior vice president for Hilton Hotels in Hawai'i.
But watch out for Gov. Ben Cayetano's shakeup that he hopes will change the dynamics on the 11-member board that controls how $61 million a year is spent to promote Hawai'i as a world-class tourist destination.
The governor's dissatisfaction with the direction of the board drove him to replace outgoing Schall with a non-hotel industry member and to refuse to reappoint Carey. That leaves a vacant seat, in which Carey will remain until the next governor appoints a replacement.
Now, the hotel industry heavyweights on the board are joined by seasoned political players who know how to push an agenda, such as former Big Island mayor Steve Yamashiro and former state senator Mike McCartney, a former Cayetano Cabinet member.
The questions are, what does the governor want the board to do, and will his new appointees deliver?
Cayetano has complained that the HTA's approach to selling Hawai'i is old-fashioned, depending too heavily on the traditional sun, surf and mai-tai-on-the-beach image. He wants the authority to promote the Islands as the Geneva of the Pacific, as host to global summits, perhaps even the World Trade Organization talks. As far as community service goes, he says, the HTA could do more to enhance scenic Hawai'i by financing park and wilderness improvements.
Carey denies that there has been a disproportionate focus on hotels or their interests, but points out that when the hotels are full, everyone's better off. We can't argue with that. Nor do we argue that we should ignore Hawai'i's traditional tropical appeal in our marketing efforts.
But we can ask the HTA to take a more balanced approach as it works to make Hawai'i a diverse and thriving visitor destination. We need to develop the cruise ship industry and to tap deeper into niches, ranging from gay and eco-tourists through those who are searching for healing or New Age experiences. We must also look at speciality tourism, such as food or cultural tours.
Let's hope the shakeup of the HTA board will bring fresh ideas to the table, and not just political maneuvering.