John De Fries had faced criticism for the agency’s efforts to balance tourism with local and environmental concerns.

The head of the embattled Hawaii Tourism Authority will step down after his contract ends in September, the agency said Thursday.

The announcement came after the HTA survived legislative efforts to kill or reshape it amid criticism that it has mishandled efforts to manage a growing number of visitors with local and environmental concerns.

John De Fries, who has led the HTA since 2020, said he will not seek the extension of a three year contract, which ends on Sept. 15. He told the HTA board of directors about his departure plans during a meeting on Thursday, according to a press release.

“It has been an honor to serve the communities and people of our islands these past three years and I will support the board and staff during this transition in leadership of HTA,” De Fries was quoted as saying. He also stressed efforts to focus more on destination management and getting tourists increasingly involved in taking responsibility for caring for the islands.

This year’s Legislature considered a bill calling for renaming the state agency and refocusing its mission from tourism marketing to management. Another measure sought to dissolve the HTA entirely and reorganize the agency, which is governed by a board of tourism executives, into a division of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Both bills made it through committee hearings in both houses but died in conference committee at the end of the session.

The HTA has come under fire for focusing heavily on marketing Hawaii despite concerns about overtourism that many feel has disrupted life for local residents and and jeopardized the environment in the islands.

The authority has tried to reinvent itself as a destination management agency, with individualized plans for counties and a branding campaign aimed at promoting more respectful tourism. But criticism mounted after it bungled an effort to award a two-year, multimillion dollar destination management and marketing contract.

Gov. Josh Green said earlier this week that he will use discretionary funds for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the Department of Education and the University of Hawaii. He didn’t give a specific figure for HTA, but it has been reported to be around $60 million.

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