The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the House Committee on Water & Land on March 22, 2023.
March 22, 2023
Conference Room 430 and via videoconference
To: House Committee on Water & Land
Rep. Linda Ichiyama, Chair
Rep. Mahina Poepoe, Vice Chair
From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
Joe Kent, Executive Vice President
RE: SB1522 SD2 HD1 — RELATING TO ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Dear Chair and Committee Members:
The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer comments on SB1522 SD2 HD1, which would repeal the Hawaii Tourism Authority and replace it with an Office of Destination Management.
It says much about the contradictory approach to tourism in our state that the response to the ongoing public debate about the future of the visitor industry is the rhetorical face-lift presented in this bill.
On the one hand, the state recognizes that tourism is a vital part of the state’s economy and has created a government agency to work with industry stakeholders, manage the convention center and promote Hawaii as a destination.
Yet that same agency has announced plans to “decrease” and “manage” tourism in ways that appeal to Hawaii residents who are concerned about the negative impacts of booming visitor numbers.
This bill engages all of the buzzwords associated with this recent turn toward “destination management.” However, it remains unclear what they really mean outside of their rhetorical flourishes. Peeling away the layers of meaning behind terms like “regenerative tourism” suggest that this is all merely code for “just the wealthier class of tourists.”
While one can discuss how “destination management” will focus on “regenerative tourism” and wax poetic about what this will mean for future generations, the nuts and bolts of this bill present us with a government agency tasked with promoting tourism, marketing Hawaii as a destination, promoting events, overseeing the convention center and analysis of visitor data.
It is unclear how this is a significant change from the HTA. In fact, it looks more like an attempt to end debate over the future of the HTA through a cosmetic restructure. As such, it will frustrate efforts to engage with the question of the proper role of the government in the visitor industry while failing to achieve any significant change.
In addition, the bill includes an appropriation of $100 million for the “new” agency, a generous increase from the amount HTA received last year that seems to ignore previous discussion about defunding the HTA entirely.
The Grassroot Institute is on record as opposing the use of taxpayer funds to support the visitor industry, which is well able to pay for its own promotion.
Renaming the agency that oversees tourism promotion would not change the fact that the state and counties should get out of the tourism business.
Whether we call it “destination management” or the HTA, tourism is too important to Hawaii for it to be entrusted to a government agency.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify.
Executive vice president
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii