Regulating transient vacation units, promoting Hawai‘i as a destination for sports and entertainment, and identifying additional funding for the World Conservation Congress were the top three legislative priorities discussed last Tuesday, Feb. 23 at the first ever “Tourism Day at the Capitol,” hosted by the Hawai‘i Lodging and Tourism Association. Legislators, HLTA members, and members of the general public gathered at the State Capitol to learn about Hawai‘i’s leading industry through an educational seminar, a hospitality-driven expo, and a legislative meet and greet.
The educational session kicked off the day’s activities with HLTA’s CEO Mufi Hannemann and guest speakers presenting the current state of Hawai‘i’s tourism industry and addressing legislative priorities of the association. Rick Egged from the Waikiki Improvement Association addressed the importance of regulating transient vacation units by collecting the 9.25 percent Transient Accommodations Tax (TAT) currently being avoided. Hawai‘i’s hotels paid an additional $453 million through the TAT in fiscal year 2015. By collecting the TAT from the 25,000 plus transient vacation units in Hawai‘i, the state and county governments will be able to fund worthy projects and initiatives that advance our visitor industry.
Continuing with the seminar, Hannemann pointed out the yet-to-be seized potential of promoting Hawai‘i as a sporting and entertainment event venue. HLTA supports a proposal for a Sports Authority to provide leadership, laser-like focus, and a voice for strengthening existing sports and attracting new events to the islands. Events such as the Pro Bowl, Honolulu Marathon, and Sony Open already draw tens of thousands of visitors each year. It’s no question that promoting these sports events and public facilities such as the Aloha Stadium and luring world class entertainment acts to Hawai‘i will help bolster tourism to the state.
Bitsy Kelley from Outrigger Enterprises Group and Mark McGuffie from International Union of Nature shared an exciting “first look” of what’s to be expected for the World Conservation Congress to be held in Hawai‘i this September. The World Conservation Congress, hosted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is often referred to as the “Olympics of Conservation” and presents a tremendous opportunity for Hawai‘i, especially as this is the first time in all of the Congress’ 68 years that it will be convened on U.S. soil. The Congress will bring together world experts in government, civil society, indigenous peoples, business, and academia with an aim to improve the way we manage our natural environment.
Hannemann also covered the need for an airport authority to oversee all aspects of our airport system in the state of Hawaii which recently came under fire in a national survey and funding for an environmental study as a first step to reviving interisland ferry service. Every survey done on this subject shows at least eight out of 10 people want to see a ferry service operating between our counties.
The educational seminar rounded out with a word from Waipahu High School’s principal Keith Hayashi on building a strong future for hospitality. With strong encouragement and support from HLTA, the high school intends to combine their culinary and hospitality career pathway academies to establish their third nationally accredited program.
Throughout Tourism Day, the fourth-floor foyer of the State Capitol was turned into a tourism expo, featuring exhibits by HLTA, hotels and other tourism businesses, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions. Over 20 exhibits were displayed, highlighting the positive impact the tourism industry has on our state. The day’s activities ended with an opportunity for our government leaders and key industry stakeholders to have a “meet and greet” over lunch.
Overall, the first Tourism Day at the Capitol had an overwhelmingly positive response. In fact, the event was so well received that HLTA has decided to make this an annual event! Here’s to hoping next year’s Tourism Day at the Capitol will be even better.
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