HLTA just got back from our 190th General Membership Meeting and WOW- what an unbelievable weekend. A huge mahalo to General Manager Danna Holck, Director of Conference Services Tiare Tipote, and the rest of the Turtle Bay Resort team for doing an incredible job serving our members and ensuring that the entire weekend was an extraordinary affair. There were many highlights of the three-day conference, including educational panels on strengthening the voice of hospitality and on sustaining Hawaii’s tourism industry, themed evening receptions, and an information packed meeting on the state of our association as well as a game plan for our association going into 2018.
We started the weekend on Thursday afternoon as we welcomed guests to the North Shore with a brief tour of Turtle Bay and a light reception at the beautiful Kuilima Point lawn. Friday morning kicked off our sponsor showcase with over 30 sponsors and a reverse trade show for hotel executives to get a first look at the showcase.
Our Friday Lunch & Learn educational panel featured government officials from all counties and all branches: Senator Kai Kahele from the Big Island, Representative James Tokioka from Kauai, Councilmember Ernie Martin of Oahu, and Council Chair Mike White of Maui. The four panelists, all strong supporters of tourism, discussed ways the hospitality industry can strengthen their voice in government. Their suggestions included supporting candidates who support the hospitality industry, keeping track of measures they are concerned with on the State Capitol website, and even considering the prospect of running for office to make sure our industry is represented in all halls of government. The conversation was especially timely leading up to the next legislative session and the 2018 elections. Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho also shared his mana'o highlighting his positive experiences in working with HLTA in his County.
As if the four legislators weren’t heavy hitters enough, we had an educational panel on Saturday with Former Governor George Ariyoshi, Former Governor John Waihe‘e, Outrigger Resorts Area General Manager Kelly Hoen, and Bickson Hospitality Group President & CEO and international hotelier Ray Bickson. Each of the speakers shed light on Hawaii’s tourism future by discussing the sustainability of Hawaii’s tourism industry. Bickson skillfully led the conversation through topics such as possibilities for economic diversity, keeping the Hawaiian culture alive, regulating transient vacation rentals, and the question of how much tourism is too much tourism. The panelists gave thought provoking responses, and challenged the audience to get involved in coming up with the solutions for Hawaii’s tourism future rather than relying on government to find the answers. Gov. Waihe'e decried "the passive/aggressive view" that too many lawmakers have towards hospitality and that tourism must be integrated into every discussion that is held about Hawaii's future. Kelly Hoen, a veteran of over two decades of luxury hotel experience, shared her up-close views of being part of the industry's push to get lawmakers to be responsive and sensitive to tourism concerns during the special legislative session in August. Gov. Ariyoshi summed up the challenge for the tourism industry saying, “If you can’t figure out the solutions to your problems, how do you expect the legislature to solve the problems in 60 days.”
Both the legislative panel and the tourism sustainability panel re-enforced key points that I shared during my "State of the Industry" report: we need to work harder, smarter and more creatively in advocating on behalf of Hawaii's # 1 industry. With 2018 being an election year, I’m proposing to all members of HLTA that we strengthen our endorsement process and provide more meaningful and substantive opportunities and activities for the candidates that we identify as strong supporters to solicit and garner our support. Tourism also should partner more with other economic development organizations who share our positions, and create a broad coalition of pro-jobs advocates to stand up for candidates that support our mutual objectives.
The conference was certainly an educational one, but we also let loose and had fun. On Saturday afternoon many of the attendees enjoyed the beautiful Kahuku weather on the golf course or at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Those who went to PCC got to experience a custom tour of the grounds with lunch at Pounders Restaurant in PCC’s new Hukilau Marketplace. On Friday and Saturday evenings, members brought out their festive side by dressing up for Friday’s Out on the Farm reception, which highlighted local agriculture with bites from North Shore food trucks and vendors, and Saturday’s Vintage Aloha celebration of HLTA’s 70th Anniversary. Saturday night was extra special as we took members back to the era in which we were founded, the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, and featured an amazing performance by Raiatea Helm and her 7-member band. The timing was perfect for Raiatea to perform, as this event primed her for her retro tour circa 1940s and beyond at Blue Note Waikiki a week later.
Mahalo again to all our members, sponsors, and guests for making the 190th General Membership Meeting a huge success. Many of you shared with me that this was an awesome experience and some of you even let me know that this was “the best GMM I've ever attended.” Our distinguished panelists also shared how impressed they were with HLTA as an organization and had no idea of all "the great things we do for Hawai'i.” We are already looking forward to next year’s meeting.
Harvest Festival & Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation:
From Turtle Bay, I headed to Kauai where I took in the Waimea Harvest Festival, in which HLTA once again co-sponsored this wonderful community grass-roots event. Thousands of folks and their ohana attended and 2500 pumpkins were given away to all the keiki that attended. Then on Tuesday, I addressed the membership of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation during their convention at the Kauai Marriott. Like HLTA, HFBF is a state- wide organization and is celebrating its 70th anniversary. In my remarks, I pointed out all the initiatives we have put into place thanks to our Agricultural Committee and stressed the importance of our two industries working together to maximize the benefits of Agri-Tourism. We'll be meeting with Brian Miyamoto, executive director of the Farm Bureau Federation and his staff shortly to follow-up on our mutually beneficial endeavors.
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