It's Time For Hawaii To Get Serious About Managing Tourism - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Frank Haas

Frank Haas is a partner at GUILD Consulting. He has had a long career in Hawaii focused on marketing and tourism strategy development.


Evidence is mounting for the need to reinvent Hawaii tourism.

  • A recent poll by the University of Hawaii Public Policy Center found residents support active tourism management and endorse a variety of management tools. It also found differing attitudes about whether to keep the Hawaii Tourism Authority, though very few residents wanted to have no “agency for marketing or guiding tourism in Hawaii” at all.
  • Resident support for tourism (as measured by the HTA) has been eroding for years, a trend that has only accelerated. The pandemic shutdown of tourism in 2020 provided a dramatic visualization of tourism’s impacts.
  • The HTA’s 2020-2025 strategic plan calls for more support for Hawaiian culture, natural resources and community programs. Flowing from that plan, HTA initiated “destination management action plans” for each island to identify tourism friction points.
  • The Legislature has weighed in, passing bills meant to change HTA’s mandates, functions, budgets and accountability.

There is a lot of energy in the air about tourism. What’s missing is a thoughtful discussion about how to structure the management and governance of tourism for the long run. Tourism needs a governing body that can effectively channel tourism concerns and issues into long-range, long-lasting solutions.

In 1998, when HTA was created, there were about 6.6 million visitor arrivals. HTA was the result of a task force responding to the conditions and challenges of the 1990s. Fast forwarding to 2019 when tourism arrivals topped 10 million, it is clearly evident that times and conditions have changed.

A new task force – representing the interests of the community, policymakers, the industry and other stakeholders – is needed now to review and perhaps revise the governance model based on lessons learned and new realities of the 2020s. One of those new realities is the need for ongoing, broad stakeholder input to plans and impact management.

One can argue HTA never truly had the broad authority and resources to adequately manage the complexity of Hawaii’s tourism.

But is there a better solution? Should HTA be reorganized to better address community and accountability concerns? Should HTA be replaced with a new model of governance with broader authority? Should it, as recent legislation suggests, be scaled back and refocused? A reinvented HTA or some new model of governance would benefit from an extended and transparent look at alternatives.

As tourism rebounds, now is the time to address the issue of tourism management and evaluate alternative models to address tourism’s impacts.

Can it be done? Hawaii hasn’t been alone in facing the challenges of tourism. Destinations around the world have been affected by tourism’s impacts and have seen how poorly managed tourism can affect quality of life.

Beachgoers enjoy the sun at Waikiki Beach during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tourism in the state has come roaring back as the pandemic has eased; here, sun seekers once again fill up the beach in Waikiki. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The good news is that many destinations have created effective plans and governance models in response to tourism’s challenges.

A European Union review of tourism management issues summarizes 41 different management plans in place.

Rotterdam launched a community-driven management plan that assesses tourism’s role neighborhood by neighborhood. Barcelona has integrated a permanent tourism advisory council, with community participation, into its municipal government.

The Columbia River Gorge created programs to manage overcrowding and also generate support for housing and other community needs. Iceland responded to a tourism boom by implementing comprehensive, long-range plans, separating overall economic planning and “destination management” functions from the marketing agency.

We don’t have to start from scratch. Hawaii can learn by studying other destinations to implement a governance structure and programs here that fit our unique needs.

When it comes to the need for planning, perhaps Benjamin Franklin said it best: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

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About the Author

Frank Haas

Frank Haas is a partner at GUILD Consulting. He has had a long career in Hawaii focused on marketing and tourism strategy development.


Latest Comments (0)

No, disband it. Scaled back and absorbed into the already bloated Hawaii State bureaucracy.   Make elected officials and Dept of Business, Economic Development & Tourism do their job and hold them accountable.  Take the money saved and give it to our fledgling public schools.  Focus the tourism industry in areas built around it (ie Waikiki, Ala Moana, Lahina, Kaanapali, Kona, Hilo, Turtle Bay, Ko Olina...).  For operators that value profit above all (tour operators, guides, virtualized equivalents like websites), introduce a preservation tax.  Roll the visitor numbers with our population growth projections and implement high density zoning requirements, complete the mass transit projects (to include adding an elevated toll road above H1).  Create volunteer community based committees to identify problems and propose fixes.  BL is there is a lot of solutions that are better.  

Akamai_ideas · 4 months ago

It is sooooo simple.  Supply and demand:  everyone wants to come here, so they must pay.  Visitor tax.  

nobotrobot · 4 months ago

Here's the real problem not mentioned in the article:  Hawaii has the second highest economic dependence on tourism of any state, behind only Nevada.  Depending on the source, between 25% and 33% of all state tax revenue and 20% of the jobs are directly tied to tourism.   Economic diversification must be considered in any discussion on tourism management.  

Downhill_From_Here · 4 months ago

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