Posted tagged ‘tourism’

The chicken and egg of tourism promotion

June 28, 2011

Gov. Neil Abercrombie raised hackles in the local visitor industry when he proposed to cut $10 million from the Hawai‘i Tourism’s Authority’s $81 million allocation to help balance the state budget, and again when he specifically criticized the $4 million HTA spends to bring the Pro Bowl to Honolulu.

The Legislature got in on the act by claiming a bigger portion of the hotel room tax for the state general fund by capping HTA’s share at $69 million.

Washington state has taken that strategy of budget balancing to the extreme by ending all state funding for tourism promotion by the end of the fiscal year, leaving the function of marketing to visitors entirely to the industry.

According to an AP story, the state’s Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt made some of the same points Abercrombie did in criticizing the Pro Bowl, saying, “When you’re taking kids off health care and raising tuition, you have to make some tough decisions.”

There are limits in comparing the two states, as tourism isn’t as central to Washington’s economy as it is to Hawai‘i’s and that state was spending only $2 million on promotion before funds were cut.

But it points up the fundamental question on tourism promotion in recessionary times: Do you cut marketing along with other state spending to help balance the budget, or are you better off doubling down on promotion to bring in more visitor spending and tax revenues that help dig out of the recession?

According to the AP story, the country is divided between the two approaches, with states such as New York and Arizona cutting back sharply while others like Michigan are stepping up spending on marketing.

In Hawai‘i, there’s little question that the expected devastating blow to local tourism from the Japan earthquake and tsunami has been softened by increasing promotion in other markets.

This isn’t a good argument to keep having every time a recession rolls around.

The smart move would be to have an objective and cool-headed discussion as the economy rebounds so we have a clear strategy in place one way or the other the next time we face a recession.

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Govern your mouth, Mr. Governor

June 9, 2011

Geez, we we’re just talking about Gov. Neil Abercrombie blathering semi-coherently about homelessness and now he’s at it again — this time with a barely articulate rant against the state paying $4 million to the NFL’s wealthy owners and players to bring the Pro Bowl here.

Among his statements reported by the Star-Advertiser:

• “This happens to be an easy target because it is so stupid. You can’t do things like give $4 million to a $9 billion football industry and not give money to children.”

• “Right now you have this spectacle of these multimillionaires and billionaires arguing about how they are going to divide it all up and they come and ask us to bribe them with $4 million to … scrimmage out here in paradise.”

• “This is a values question. I am not really that concerned with what multimillionaires or billionaires or whatever they are, are able to — what do they do with all that? I mean, how many sandwiches can you eat?”

The governor’s unexpected tizzy fit totally distracted attention from what he called his press conference to promote — his early childhood education initiative.

And it reflected an immature prejudice that anybody who has money is inherently suspect (unless, of course, they’re giving their money to his campaign).

The Pro Bowl seemed an unlikely target of such over-the-top ire. It’s a quality event and local people enjoy getting to see their favorite football stars up close as much as the tourists do.

It seems to have a decent return on investment as far as such promotions go. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, this year’s Pro Bowl brought in $28.15 million in unique visitor spending and generated $3.07 million in state taxes, not to mention the promotional value of putting Hawai‘i on national TV in the middle of the mainland winter.

It’s disingenuous and simplistic to suggest that booting the Pro Bowl would result in $4 million more going to education.

Which isn’t to say there’s no room for discussion about whether the Pro Bowl is a good investment for Hawai‘i.

But you don’t change policy by wildly shooting off your mouth; you do it by seeing what your constituents think and having an adult discussion with the various stakeholders who have devoted much effort to bringing the Pro Bowl here in the sincere belief that it’s good for business and good for Hawai‘i.

It’s difficult to tell sometimes whether Abercrombie is reprising the loudmouthed campus rabble-rouser he once was or channeling Frank Fasi without the charm, but either way it isn’t playing.

He won’t be taken seriously as governor of the state until he learns to govern his mouth.

Is Hawai‘i’s economic break finally coming?

June 1, 2011

I spent a couple of hours cruising around Waikiki Sunday after my grandson’s touch football game at Kapiolani Park and it was good to see the place thick with visitors for the Memorial Day weekend.

The latest visitor count confirms what my eyeballs observed — that we’re not taking nearly as big a hit as projected from the Sendai earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Japanese visitors are down, but only by about half as much as initially projected and those who come are spending more than they did last year.

The drop in the Japanese count is being more than made up for by an increase in visitors from the U.S. mainland and other emerging markets, who are also spending more than they did last year.

Could it be we’re finally starting to catch a break after all the years of economic morass?

If so, the state budget should start getting a lot easier to balance. Actually, tax revenues were already showing signs of recovery this year except for having to repay the income tax refunds that former Gov. Linda Lingle deferred from last year.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie probably could have gotten away with deferring the refunds another year to ease this year’s budget drama, but he made a gutsy call to take the medicine now so we’ll get the full benefit of the recovery when it comes.

If the visitor numbers hold, he could be rewarded next year with a few bucks to start funding his “new day” initiatives.


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