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Annual updates from leaders serve to inform and inspire

By Cynthia Oi

LAST UPDATED: 1:39 a.m. HST, Jan 27, 2011

On two successive days this week, Hawaii residents had the opportunity to hear their state and national leaders talk about dreams and aspirations — and deliver harsh reckonings of our economic and social realities.

My suspicion that many people didn't listen to the annual speeches by the governor and the president was bolstered by a medical supplies solicitor who rang up 17 minutes into the president's address to Congress on Tuesday.

When I asked him why he wasn't paying attention to the State of the Union address, he said, "What is that? What's that?"

After straining to politely tell him I was busy, I hung up.

I understand that he was on the job and probably couldn't put soliciting on hold. He might have set his DVD recorder to capture the speech for later viewing or planned to watch it via webcasts when he got home from work. But seeing as how he wasn't even familiar with the event, I doubt it.

Too bad, because what the president had to say and what the governor had to say a day earlier were important.

You can bet that the captains of the tourism and time-share industries were listening to Neil Abercrombie's State of the State address in which he outlined his plan to spread the pain of the state's acute cash shortage across almost every government agency.

You can bet they heard loud and clear his intention to shave by $10 million the Hawaii Tourism Authority's marketing fund that usually totals $44 million.

Same with time-share businesses operators, whom the governor targeted for a 2 percentage point tax increase, which would bring their transient accommodations levy to 9.25 percent, matching what customers pay at conventional hotels.

Time-share units aren't what they were 30 or 40 years ago. Rather than individual apartments owned by families who split vacation periods among themselves, time-share enterprises are typically large membership clubs through which people buy points to stay at resorts and hotels worldwide and are mostly run by resort and hotel companies themselves.

In Hawaii, the number of timeshare units totals about 8,600, representing more than 11 percent of the visitor lodging inventory.

So fair is fair.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority, ostensibly a state agency, gets its spending money from the hotel room tax, $72.8 million last year and $64.9 million in 2009.

It has done a good job under trying circumstances. Visitor numbers have risen lately, allowing hotels to raise their room rates as demand returns.

But it's not asking too much of the authority to tighten its belt and for the tourism industry to pick up the slack, not when programs that help the poor will be virtually eliminated to save the state about $30 million.

It's also not too much to ask that people pay attention to what their leaders have to say.

Though opinions and goals may differ, the annual assessments of where we are and what we hope to achieve serve to inform. They can inspire and, in these days of uncertainty when problems seem insurmountable, a good dose of encouragement can help motivate individuals and businesses to beat back difficulties.

Cynthia Oi can be reached at

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