Committee recommends dissolution of Hawaii Tourism Authority

The Hawaii House Committee on Tourism advanced a bill that dissolves the state's tourism authority and creates a three-member "destination management agency."

The Hawaii Tourism Authority has been criticized for its handling of a $34 million marketing contract, according to a separate bill filed by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz.

The new agency proposed in House Bill 1375 would focus more on helping the counties manage the 10 million tourists that visit Hawaii each year, according to Chairman Sean Quinlan, who also sponsored the bill, during the hearing Thursday.

"It can be life-changing when you have that mass of people flowing into your community day after day after day, and we've been begging for help, and we haven't gotten a lot of help, quite frankly," Quinlan said. "And what I'd like to do is create a structure where the state can provide that help to local communities because we've done a lot for visitors in Hawaii, for tourism in Hawaii. It's very appropriate that we start doing things for all of us, and I don't care if you moved here yesterday or if your family's been here for 700 years, I am talking about you. Local residents have to be the primary concern."

The bill would set the agency's funding level at $100 million, with $50 million going into a special fund distributed to counties, according to Quinlan. The governor would appoint members. The body would operate independently, Quinlan said.

Dela Cruz's bill would also dissolve the Hawaii Tourism Authority but would transfer the authority's duties to the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

"Due to the mismanagement by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the award of a $34,000,000 contract for the marketing of Hawaii as a tourism destination to the United States major market area has been in limbo since 2021," the text of the bill says. "This situation has been widely publicized and has demonstrated the Hawaii tourism authority's noncompliance with the state procurement code. The legislature additionally finds that, prior to the establishment of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism managed the tourism marketing contracts for the state. To re-establish public confidence in the State procurement process, the legislature finds that it is necessary and appropriate to dissolve the Hawaii Tourism Authority and transfer its duties and functions to the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism."

Quinlan has filed a companion legislation to Dela Cruz's bill in the House. No hearings on the bills are scheduled.

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