April 21, 2021
Aloha Kākou!
In a recent interview with Catherine Cruz on Hawai‘i Public Radio’s The Conversation, I shared a belief that “On a Pacific Island, when you need firewood, you don’t burn the canoes.”
Yet, that is exactly what the Hawai‘i State Legislature intends to do with the House Bill 862, HD2, SD2 which was passed out of the Senate with amendments and headed to conference committee for discussion tomorrow, April 22 at 11:30 a.m. This bill aims to cripple the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority’s ability to manage tourism effectively as the state looks to rebound economically from the pandemic. It strips away a significant part of HTA’s funding which supports our Strategic Plan’s four interacting pillars: Hawaiian culture, natural resources, community and brand marketing.
I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone from the industry and community who has spoken up against this drastic and short-sighted measure by submitting hundreds of testimonies and sharing your perspective with the media. Just as you are concerned about the future of Hawai‘i’s tourism industry, we believe HTA is the right agency now more than ever to help steward our state back to prosperity with a new model for a regenerative tourism in mind. One that focuses first on community benefits and resident satisfaction.
I encourage you to watch tomorrow’s conference committee hearing in which the House and Senate will debate and negotiate the fate of your programs. HTA serves at the pleasure of the more than 175,000 residents who work in tourism and thousands of businesses across the Hawaiian Islands that make it an important industry for the state’s economic well-being bringing in more than $18 billion to the state and over $600 million in tax revenue.
Finally, I look forward to the continued dialogue and collaboration with our HTA board members to ensure our Mālama Hawai‘i focus remains a priority in the years ahead. Some of this work was already being done pre-pandemic before my arrival at HTA through the visitor education marketing efforts of the Hawai‘i Visitors and Convention Bureau’s “Hawai‘i Rooted” campaign featuring local voices sharing personal stories about what makes the Hawaiian Islands so special. That campaign then evolved into the current “Kuleana” campaign which went a step further to reach travelers pre-arrival and during their stay in Hawai‘i with messages from locals about a visitor’s responsibility in caring for our islands during their stay. This was particularly important during the pandemic when tourism all but shut down last March and as we’re starting to see a return of travelers to the islands now.
Additionally, HTA continues the process of working with each island on its Destination Management Action Plan (DMAP) putting the community at the middle of determining the type of visitor industry and experience they want in their communities. Recognizing that each island’s needs and expectations for tourism are different, the DMAPs hold great value for the future giving HTA, the counties and the industry an opportunity to listen to the residents and take action on their insightful feedback into our destination management planning process.
I believe through our holistic approach to educational marketing, collaboration with community and letting our actions speak louder than words in moving tourism forward in a responsibly managed way, we can achieve a balance in which Hawai‘i’s economy can continue to benefit from a vibrant tourism industry and residents feel vested in its success.
To do that, there needs to be a strong steward keeping everyone focused and I firmly believe HTA is the organization to continue leading this change.
Mahalo nui for your continued support.
John De Fries
President & CEO
Hawai‘i Tourism Authority

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