Hawaii lawmakers to make tourism agency justify funding

HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Tourists watch the sunset on the summit of Mauna Kea in July 2013.

HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers ended their 2023 legislative session on Thursday without allocating money for the tourism agency that manages the state’s biggest industry and employer.

But legislators said some money would likely be made available to the Hawaii Tourism Authority through a process that will have Gov. Josh Green’s administration and lawmakers vet its funding requests.


“We’re not just going to give them, you know, X dollar amount and say good luck, call it a day,” said Rep. Sean Quinlan, the chair of the House Tourism Committee and a Democrat.

He said the agency’s board would need to make “specific requests” to the state Department of Budget and Finance for money. He said this “would then be reviewed by the administration and the Legislature so we can have a little more accountability.”

The new funding process comes after the House and Senate failed to agree on funding for the agency in the regular budget.

For decades the agency was responsible primarily for marketing Hawaii to tourists worldwide and collecting data on the millions of travelers who visit the islands each year.

In recent years, as the number of annual tourists hit a record 10 million in 2019 and resident complaints about excess tourism grew, the agency has also been charged with managing travelers upon their arrival. The aim is to alleviate the effects of too much tourism by better handling the hordes that have overwhelmed some hiking trails, beaches and country roads like the Hana Highway.

But some lawmakers have been unsatisfied with the agency’s work on tourism and destination management.

“I look forward to working with them, but at the same time making sure that the needs of the community and responsible tourism is addressed,” Sen. Lynn DeCoite, the Democratic chair of the Senate’s tourism committee, said about the new funding mechanism.

Sen. Gilbert Keith-Agaran, vice chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said the House and Senate both want accountability for the agency’s spending.

“They will have to show the two chairs that there is a reason why they want the money and what they’re going to use it for,” said Keith-Agaran, a Democrat. “It’s not going to be a blank check to them.”

The funds for the Hawaii Tourism Authority will come from the $200 million lawmakers set aside to address a variety of deferred maintenance projects.

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