The Hawaii Tourism Authority wants $60 million for operations during the next fiscal year, with more than half of the money meant for branding. The goal: to attract more thoughtful, respectful tourists — well-heeled types who’ll volunteer their time giving back to the islands while connecting to the land, people and culture.

Hawaii's Changinge Economy Special Project BadgeBut go down to Waikiki, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any tourists who’ve heard of the HTA’s “Malama Hawaii” campaign, which is at the center of the tourism authority’s efforts. In fact, you’ll probably have trouble finding anyone who knows what “malama” means at all.

Maybe it’s unfair to ask vacationers what “Kalakaua” means, even when they’re standing on Kalakaua Avenue. But the HTA says its branding “focus is on pre- and post-visitor education in key visitor source markets about Hawai‘i’s value proposition and their kuleana to mālama our people and place when they visit the state.” So shouldn’t they know what “kuleana” and “malama” mean?

Our unscientific survey of tourists in Waikiki found … Well, the video log of our walkabout speaks for itself.

Asked about Civil Beat’s findings, the HTA said it just needs more time — in addition to about $34.2 million for branding for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Ilihia Gionson, an HTA spokesman, said branding is a long-term enterprise, noting the Malama Hawaii campaign started only eight months ago.

Gionson said the authority must reverse decades of recreation-focused branding to education on how to protect and care for Hawaii’s natural resources.

“The purpose is to help educate folks and build the understanding that this isn’t simply a playground in paradise,” he said. “This is a place with traditions, with long histories and a very rich living culture.”

Despite our anecdotal evidence, Lei-Ann Field with the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau said media coverage, partner companies and paid advertisement have indeed gotten the word out.

The paid media included 30-second videos on the Golf Channel, digital ads on Amazon, Roku and Hulu and social posts on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

Field’s outreach analytics also estimated that over $750,000 in free publicity came from news coverage from many organizations, including Forbes, Travel + Leisure and Good Morning America.

Hawaii’s Changing Economy” is supported by a grant from the Hawaii Community Foundation as part of its CHANGE Framework project.

An Important Note

If you consider nonprofit, independent news to be an essential service that helps keep our community informed, please include Civil Beat among your year-end contributions.

And for those who can, consider supporting us with a monthly gift, which helps keep our content free for those who need it most.

This year, we are making it our goal to raise $225,000 in reader support by December 31, to support our news coverage statewide and throughout the Pacific. Are you ready to help us continue this work?

About the Authors