WAIKOLOA, Hawaii >> The Hawaii Tourism Authority is adding “responsible tourism” to its traditional marketing, a departure from its past focus on promoting Hawaii’s beaches, weather, natural beauty and unique Hawaiian culture.
The state agency, which the state Legislature created in 1998 to market tourism and shape its future development, announced the change at its Fall Tourism Update held Monday and Tuesday on Hawaii island. Sustainable tourism, or ensuring that Hawaii’s resources are well enough to draw tourists, was a key focus of the conference, which drew 461 attendees to the Hilton Waikoloa Village.
“It’s the right thing to do. We live on an island. We have obligations and responsibilities,” Chris Tatum, HTA president and CEO, said Tuesday. “Hawaii should be the No. 1 place to come that people know that we are respecting and preserving our environment.”
Tatum’s remarks came as the number of visitors to the state continues to climb — taxing local resources and overburdening natural resources.
On Tuesday the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism revised its forecast for 2019 visitor arrivals to Hawaii to 10.5 million visitors. The nearly 6% growth rate is higher than the previous projection, which anticipated a 4% rise. Visitor expenditures also are now anticipated to rise 0.9% instead of decrease by 0.2% as previously projected.
DBEDT now expects visitor arrivals and expenditures will increase 1.5% to 2.5% for the next few years, which is higher than previously projected, due to changes in market share between international and domestic visitors.
Some would view DBEDT’s latest forecast as good news for the economy of a state that depends so heavily on tourism. However, the growing perception of over-tourism in pockets across the state has left some residents and community leaders asking how much tourism is too much and seeking ways to strike a balance in the industry that drives the state’s economy.
Adding responsible tourism to its branding is new for HTA.
It is a concept that has been gaining ground in the islands. In June, Kauai’s North Shore community launched the Aloha Pledge, which was loosely patterned after Hawaii island’s Pono Pledge, introduced last year by the County of Hawaii and the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau. And just last month Honolulu City Council member Kymberly Pine proposed that tourists sign a pledge to protect the environment.
“Coming out of the Great Recession, people were very pleased with tourism in general. However, as the number of arrivals have increased, resident satisfaction with tourism has decreased,” said Jennifer Chun, HTA director of tourism research.
That’s part of the reason that the HTA board this spring approved a fiscal year 2020 marketing budget of $51.6 million, or 59% of the HTA’s total budget. The marketing budget once occupied 63% of HTA’s total budget.
HTA Chief Administrative Officer Keith Regan said more emphasis has been put on Hawaiian culture, natural resources, community, sports and safety and security, which comprise nearly 32% of HTA’s fiscal 2020 budget. That’s up from 28% of the fiscal 2019 total.
For fiscal year 2021, Kalani Kaanaana, HTA director of Hawaiian cultural affairs, said that he plans to advocate for additional resources.
“As we continue to reinvest in people and place, I’ll continue to advocate for additional funding that protects our natural resources and our host culture,” Kaanaana said. “Last year our natural resources portion of the budget was $4 million, and I’d like to see that number increase.”
HTA’s overall budget now reflects a new, less marketing-driven vision of tourism management that emphasizes improving resident sentiment toward the visitor industry and visitor experiences, Tatum said. HTA will do that by focusing on marketing that attracts higher-spending visitors and expanding programs that invest in the community, Hawaiian culture and natural resources, he said. The agency also will encourage the hotel industry to be more responsible by emphasizing the elimination of single-use plastics like those tiny in-room shampoo bottles, Tatum said.
Those priorities carried over into the fall conference where one session discussed how to prioritize tourism as a community value and ensure it remains beneficial for residents across the state.
Conference participants said environmental conservation efforts are chronically underfunded in Hawaii compared with other destinations, and discussed the possibility of adding a green tax or fund to address the scale of work that needs to be done.
HTA’s global marketing team also has developed responsible tourism campaigns. The Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, HTA’s U.S. marketing contractor, is now using mobile technology to identify tourists who are in the Hawaiian Islands and deliver messages about how to be responsible tourists.
“We believe if they understand the values that shape our behaviors, they’ll follow them,” said Jay Talwar, HVCB chief marketing officer.
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