Tourism agency opposes move to use its funds to cover travel by UH athletes
The Hawaii Tourism Authority is defending its funding amid a state Senate effort to reallocate $3 million from the agency’s budget to subsidize travel expenses incurred by University of Hawaii athletic teams. Senate Bill 83, which was proposed last week, is slated to be heard Friday at 9:30 a.m. in conference room 211.
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The Hawaii Tourism Authority is defending its funding amid a state Senate effort to reallocate $3 million from the agency’s budget to subsidize travel expenses incurred by University of Hawaii athletic teams.
Senate Bill 83, which was proposed last week, is slated to be heard Friday at 9:30 a.m. in conference room 211.
Sens. Jill Tokuda, Suzanne Chun Oakland, J. Kalani English, Brickwood Galuteria and Sam Slom moved the measure forward.
The bill proposes that some of HTA’s fixed $82 million budget be used to subsidize the University of Hawaii athletic teams for fiscal year 2016-2017. It also would require the governor to determine whether such funding should continue, and if so, to implement the determination.
The bill states that University of Hawaii athletes are “ambassadors of aloha” when they travel out of the state, and that “athletes have an opportunity to uniquely and authentically represent Hawaii.” The bill finds that internationally and nationally televised games and events “are important marketing tools to attract visitors to the state and showcase a premier higher- education institution. Teams from visiting schools bring family, friends and supporters who stay for an extended time after the games.”
“Consequently, the Legislature finds that expenditures from the tourism special fund, the proceeds of which are primarily derived from the transient accommodations tax, are justifiable for the travel expenses and subsidies incurred by the University of Hawaii for its intercollegiate athletics program,” the bill reads.
But George Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said taking marketing funds from the HTA would be detrimental to the agency’s ability to promote Hawaii tourism and support community programs that benefit residents.
“Reducing HTA’s budget will force us to make funding cutbacks to community programs valued by residents statewide, and to our tourism marketing. Making such cutbacks would put Hawaii’s visitor industry in a more vulnerable position when vying for global travelers, especially when competing against international destinations with far greater tourism marketing funds at their disposal,” Szigeti said in an emailed statement.
Szigeti said a significant number of local nonprofits rely on HTA support to present 162 events, festivals and programs statewide to perpetuate Hawaii’s culture, environment and community spirit.
While the HTA has enjoyed its fourth straight record-setting year of visitor arrivals and visitor spending, Szigeti said the HTA must continue to aggressively market Hawaii tourism.
“Everyone knows how quickly outside forces, such as an economic downturn, can affect how travelers spend their money and where they choose to vacation,’” he said.
Szigeti said the HTA already is doing its part to support sports. This fiscal year, HTA has committed $9 million “to support 19 sports events statewide with a projected economic impact of $144 million.”
“Cutting HTA’s budget will weaken our tourism marketing on behalf of Hawaii’s visitor industry, the state’s largest economic driver and provider of jobs. We respectfully oppose any proposal that takes away funds from our budget,” Szigeti said.