Wednesday, January 8, 2014

HTA Doesn't Want the 99%

By Henry Curtis

The Audit of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) was the topic for an Informational Briefing held at the State Legislature today.

The Senate Committee on Tourism and the House Committee on Tourism heard presentations by the Acting State Auditor Jan K. Yamane, HTA President & Chief Executive Officer Mike McCartney, Chair of the HTA Board of Directors Ronald Williams, HTA Vice President for Brand Management David Uchiyama and HTA Vice President for Administrative and Fiscal Affairs Doug G. Murdock.



The audience consisted of HTA, Auditor and Legislative staff members, as well as a few members of the press.

HTA said they weren’t going to disagree with anything in the Auditor’s report and they were working to correct their problems.

The Auditor agreed that they appeared to be moving in the right direction, but the proof will be determined in the next review.

HTA opened their offices up for the audit team. A fair amount of time was spent waiting for the HTA to locate the files needed for the audit. By law they are required to have marketing plans.

But parts of the files were located in many different places. Some are embedded within contracts while others appear as stand-alone documents. All of the files were eventually located.

HTA referred to this situation as analog and said they needed to go digital. All of the documents need to be centrally located where they can be easily accessed.

The Auditor discussed the need to have smaller and more comprehensive documents. Additional information could be included in appendices.  “What we're suggesting is that any taxpayer or any legislator should be able to ask HTA, may I see your marketing plan, and it wouldn't be a two to three week process of culling documents and then digging through and pouring through this many files.”

David Uchiyama exclaimed, “But I wouldn't give this to our competitors.”



Representative Brower suggested that what is good for the military might be applicable to the HTA.  Maybe a redacted report could be made available that would have proprietary information blacked out.

Mike McCartney noted that “we need everyone's support to move forward. So can we do a better job of communicating what we're doing and how we're doing and making sure that's happening.  We might need some of these documents strategically  keep to ourselves but what I think I hear everybody saying  is how do we present what we do so people feel comfortable and support what we are doing.  And I commit to that, we can do that.”

The HTA said that if someone outside of the tourism industry was to read their plans they might come to the mistaken belief that HTA targets all visitors. They do not. They feel that they need to keep the plans secret. If the plans become public then other entities will steal them. Mexico is already copying Hawai’i’s approach.

HTA noted that they, like legislators, target certain members of the community.

Legislators responded that they target all of their constituents.

The HTA then went on to talked about a common misperception.

“Our specific traveler is kind of proprietary” said Mike McCartney, adding “there's a target, we identify this population. ...we spend our resources going after that specific segment.”

HTA Board Chair Ron Williams said when we speak of targeting it is one type of visitor.  “We're talking about a high spender, somebody who has the ability to travel … someone who has time.”

David Uchiyama said HTA creates “demographic and a psychographic profiles” of the specific type of visitor sought.

The choice of visitors that are targeted will of course affect what jobs are needed, who will move to Hawaii from elsewhere, and what impact this will have on local property values and property taxes.

With the public being kept in the dark on this issue, they will not be able to say whether they are in support of such profiling. The concentrated profiling of High Enders means that Hawaii has a wider gap between the rich and the poor than most other states.

As a state, Hawaii has unusually high tax rates on the lower economic end of society. It appears that HTA is exacerbating this problem.  By focusing on the development of Kona, this problem may grow.

Pacific Business News noted in 2006 that Kona is becoming the home of the super-rich. “In a sure sign of the Big Island's arrival as an enclave of the superrich, private jets are landing in record numbers at the airport in Kona, creating a mini-industry that services the planes and attends to the passengers.”

 Senator Malama Solomon talked about the needs of the tourism industry in Kona.

Mike McCartney agreed that Kona is very important. “We feel Kona is so strategic to Hawaii's future. The port of entry for Honolulu is the number four in the United States for foreign arrivals. There's New York, Miami, LA, Honolulu. We're number four. We need a second port of entry. ...Kona has to be our second international port of entry.”

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1 comment:

  1. Henry, I am not sure if you are just reporting or criticizing the HTA's policy ands lack of transparency.

    On two points:

    Their apparent marketing to wealthy visitors. There has been an argument for a long time on whether it makes more sense to aim at a smaller group of affluent, high-spenders or aim at the mass market, high-volume demographic.

    Would you rather get one tourist who spends $1000 a day or ten tourists, each spending $100? Which imposes a lower cost on our resources, our infrastructure? Even though I am in the sub-$100 a day category whn i travel, I reject the insinuation it does not makes sense for HTA to go after the wealthy traveller.

    On the question of whether HTA's marketing study should be made public, I think I disagree. There is no question such s rudy costs a lot of money and has great value. And the value of the study is greatly reduced if other competitive destinations are given it for free. HTA is semi-autonomous. I think that should apply to whether their internal studies are "public documents" which must be disclosed or not. Heck, they should be audited to minimize cronyism and the misappropriations of funds. But how does it serve taxpayer interests to first pay for a study an then insist it be shared with the competition. To my brain, "does not compute."

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