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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 27, 2003

$8M sought for tourism

By Kelly Yamanouchi
Advertiser Staff Writer

The state will spend an additional $8 million to help the tourism industry recover from the war with Iraq if a bill approved by the House Committee on Finance yesterday becomes law.

The additional spending, recommended by the House Select Committee on War Preparedness, would be added to the Hawai'i Tourism Authority's budget for the next fiscal year, starting July 1.

"Now that war has started, part of the plan for the Hawai'i Tourism Authority is to stop marketing for a specific amount of time, but at the same time to develop a contingency plan to market when it is appropriate at a later date," said War Preparedness Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Luke.

There is no plan yet for how the tourism authority would spend the $8 million, and some lawmakers have criticized the measure.

"Before I agree to give them additional money, I want them to account for the monies," said Senate Tourism Committee Chairwoman Donna Mercado Kim.

University of Hawai'i Tourism Industry Management School dean emeritus Chuck Gee called for more public discussion about why the tourism authority needs the $8 million.

"We can't afford to be wasting resources," Gee said. "Why $8 million? Why not $1 (million) or $2 million?

"I understand where they're coming from. Nonetheless, $8 million is something that's desperately needed by the social services and education."

According to the bill, the purpose is to counter and mitigate adverse effects that the war may have on the state's economy and people.

"Neither our nation nor our state has fully recovered from the impact of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001," the bill reads. "While Hawai'i's economy is slowly improving, our recovery has been gradual and fragile and can easily be derailed by another terrorist attack or war."

The Hawai'i Tourism Authority's budget stands at $56 million. Its budget for the coming fiscal year has not been determined.

The bill requires the authority to report to the Legislature by Dec. 15 on how the $8 million was spent on its marketing plan. The $8 million would come from the tourism special fund, which derives its money from the hotel room tax.

Hawai'i Tourism Authority executive director Rex Johnson, who supports the measure, said in testimony that he would like spend money not just for marketing recovery efforts, but also for other tourism authority programs next year. "It just depends on what happens with the war," Johnson said.

The Hawai'i Tourism Authority has a contingency plan for the war with Iraq and has redirected spending for brand advertising to other marketing programs such as public relations, with messages from Gov. Linda Lingle encouraging travel to Hawai'i. However, the plan does not go into detail about recovery efforts beyond three months from now.

On a separate issue, Johnson said there is no plan to send a delegation of state officials and business leaders to Japan in the next couple of weeks to promote tourism.

Earlier this month, state Rep. Calvin Say, D-20th (St. Louis Heights, Palolo, Wilhelmina Rise), said he supported sending a delegation within two to three weeks of the start of war.

"It may not happen in the next two weeks," Johnson said. "It just depends on what we hear from the travel industry. We'll try to do it at the most beneficial time."