Hospitality consultant says Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority contract award to Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement reflects shift to destination management

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Hawaii’s tourism industry is at a crossroads. It is bouncing back faster than expected, and the Hawaii Tourism Authority is changing who will market the islands in North America.

It is by far the largest source of travelers in the state. In the first four months of the year, 2.8 million people visited Hawaiʻi. More than 90% came from the United States or Canada.

The HTA awarded a $34 million destination marketing and management contract to the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement instead of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. Previously, the HVCB had been the only entity ever contracted to market Hawaiʻi as a destination to the continental United States and Canada. The HVCB has until Tuesday to decide whether it will challenge the award.

“When it came time to review the contract for US marketing, the request for proposals (RFP) that went out was very different. And that reflects what was in the strategic plan,” said hospitality consultant Frank Haas. “The strategic plan calls for developing an integrated destination management system, and marketing is certainly part of that. But it really saw the interplay between community, Hawaiian culture, natural resources, and marketing.”

Haas is part of a transition team for the Kilohana collective – a hui organized by the CNHA. Haas previously worked at the HTA and had the HVCB as a client.

How did we come to this with a possible second challenge to the awarding of a $34 million contract?

In 2019, Hawaiʻi welcomed 10.4 million visitors to the islands – a record year and the first time the state welcomed more than 10 million visitors. Hawaiʻi was on track to top visitor arrivals again in 2020 if it weren’t for the pandemic. The pushback from residents who complained of overtourism prompted the Hawaii Tourism Authority to create a strategic plan to try to stem it. It is in the process of implementing DMAPs or Destination Management Action Plans.

“HTA measures the sentiment of residents, and certainly we’ve all seen anecdotes about too many people on the beaches, too much traffic and certain things. So that’s really an issue that HTA has been working to address and the way they’re trying solving it goes through their planning process,” Haas said.

Haas said he agreed to get involved in order to help the CNHA succeed. He wrote the group’s strategic assessment and hopes to help people understand the procurement process.

“If there is going to be change, there will be discomfort with change,” he said. “I care deeply about Hawaii and I care deeply about its success in tourism. So yes, if someone has a contract to manage the destination and do marketing in the United States and I can help when they have this contract, I would certainly like to be at the table.”

This interview aired on The Conversation on June 17, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

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