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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 23, 2003

Tourism authority under fire at forum

By Kelly Yamanouchi
Advertiser Staff Writer

Tourism representatives said yesterday that the visitor industry lacks direction and leadership and should work harder to bring more flights into Hawai'i.

One observation offered at yesterday's discussions on tourism was that there really is no clear-cut agreement on how to measure "the effectiveness of tourism as administered by the Hawai'i Tourism Authority." Other participants called for more flights.

Advertiser library photo • March 20, 2003

The Hawai'i Tourism Authority came under particularly harsh criticism from some industry officials who said board members are perceived as acting in their own political or business interests.

The comments came during Gov. Linda Lingle's second tourism summit and the first to be open to the public. Six tourism committees proposed ways to solve problems vexing the industry.

The committees presented action plans to increase flights to the state, make agencies more accountable, establish tourism strategies, generate financing, review the role and makeup of the Hawai'i Tourism Authority and monitor the authority's marketing proposals.

The governor told the gathering that a lack of coordination in attracting flights to Hawai'i was "probably the most disturbing statement" made in the presentations.

"That is a critical issue," Lingle said.

The governor said she intends to discuss the matter with airline representatives right away to find out what factors are important to them in adding flights to Hawai'i. State landing fees may be among them.

Diane Quitiquit, chairwoman of the Big Island Visitors Bureau, said the state should consider assigning someone to the Department of Transportation to promote Hawai'i's airports among airlines.

"Airports across the nation actually go out and market themselves," she said.

In other presentations and comments, the Hawai'i Tourism Authority and its board came under attack for a variety of perceived shortcomings.

Proposals from summit

Gov. Linda Lingle's Tourism Summit committees propose:

• Establishing an airport system with predictable, low costs for airlines.

• Encouraging new nonstop flights from underserved markets.

• Developing a new accountability plan for the Hawai'i Tourism Authority

"The perception is that several board members have taken their own business, professional or political interest as priority for funding decisions," said John Toner, executive vice president of the Ko Olina Resort.

Toner was appointed to the Hawai'i Tourism Authority board by Lingle yesterday to replace Ben Kudo, an attorney and board member whom Lingle did not reappoint. Kudo was an appointee of former Gov. Ben Cayetano.

"It's pretty obvious that that group (the authority board) doesn't reach a level of harmony," Toner said.

"The performance is pretty obvious."

Marsha Wienert, Maui Visitors Bureau executive director, said one problem is that "there really is no clear-cut agreement on how to measure the effectiveness of tourism as administered by the Hawai'i Tourism Authority."

Tom Ocasek, a former Hawai'i Visitors & Convention Bureau chairman, said he was concerned that the industry lacked clear leadership.

Ocasek said the tourism industry needs to "get past looking like monkeys with footballs, which is what we're looking like."

Even Keith Vieira, senior vice president of Starwood Hotels & Resorts and a tourism authority board member himself, questioned the way the authority makes decisions.

"We need to keep up this level of industry involvement. We cannot trust the HTA to understand the industry issues," said Vieira. "We've got to put pressure on HTA to get our issues on the table."

Vieira and others, including Lingle, have said the board should have more representation from the tourism industry.

In response to the criticisms, Hawai'i Tourism Authority executive director Rex Johnson said the six committees are welcome to make their presentations to the authority board. Asked later if he had a fuller response, Johnson said: "I'll leave it at that."

Lingle also said she hopes to restore higher limits for state money going to tourism — money that is generated by hotel room taxes and flows into a special tourism fund. She said "there will be a big push" to increase money for tourism in the next legislative session.

But Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, who heads the Senate Tourism Committee, said the Legislature's responsibility is to "provide balance," pointing to a need for more support for education.

Lingle also said her Cabinet-level tourism liaison will be named by the end of June.

Reach Kelly Yamanouchi at 535-2470, or at kyamanouchi@honoluluadvertiser.com.