The state Office of Consumer Protection said it is investigating representations made by a website that touts itself as the “Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau,” offers tours and says more than 750,000 visitors have been served.
Unlike the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, the Pearl Harbor tour business does not appear to have any governmental sanction.
“We have never heard of this organization,” said Charlene Chan, director of communications for the state’s Hawaii Tourism Authority. A state filing said the trade name was registered in 2015.
The website, at visitpearlharbor.org, states, “The Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau was established to help visitors and the community get the most out of Pearl Harbor.”
“Through partnerships with authorized tour companies, we offer the opportunity to purchase your Pearl Harbor tour here through a trusted source,” the “about” page adds. “The Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau does not rely on taxpayer funds. Funding is solely by tour and merchandise sales.”
Pages on the website end with “Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau
Pearl Harbor Visitors Center: 1 Arizona Memorial Pl., Honolulu, HI, 96818.”
Following that are the visitor center hours. The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center does exist, and is run by the National Park Service, which lists the address as 1 Arizona Memorial Place.
“We’re not connected … in any way, shape or form to this tour operator and website,” said Jim VanDerKamp, a board member with Pacific Historic Parks, a sanctioned nonprofit that supports the National Park Service at the USS Arizona Memorial.
‘Not inherently misleading’
Steve Levins, executive director of the Office of Consumer Protection, said the website is being investigated.
Without commenting specifically about the Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau, Levins said, “Hawaii law is clear that if you are engaging in conduct that causes a likelihood of confusion or misunderstanding as to the source, sponsorship, approval or certification of services, it may be an unfair or deceptive trade practice.”
Levins said penalties can range from $500 to $10,000 per violation.
USA Today recently cited the Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau as a source of information in a story related to the Dec. 7, 1941, attack that was republished around the country, lending authenticity to the organization.
The phone contact for the Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau has a message that says, “Aloha, you’ve reached Holo Hawaii Tours, Pearl Harbor, Oahu, and Oahu Zipline.”
Businessman James Owen, who registered Holo Hawaii Tours LLC and the Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau with the state in 2015 and says he runs both, along with the Coral Crater Adventure Park, responded in an email that the visitors bureau operates as an “independent entity” to help promote and assist visitors to learn more about Pearl Harbor historic sites.
“Like other responsible organizations that offer tours, transportation and information about Pearl Harbor, we work in accordance with government rules and regulations, but are not required to have any official government sanction,” Owen said.
The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, by contrast, is a nonprofit that is contracted to market the Hawaiian Islands under the auspices of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, a state agency.
The Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau was registered with the state through the Mauka Group, a limited-liability corporation. Owen signed the application for the trade name.
Without passing judgment on the Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau, the tourism authority said it does not support any tourism organization that is not operating legitimately.
“If this organization is misrepresenting its connection to Pearl Harbor’s legacy and the tour experience, then this should be addressed promptly by the proper authorities,” Chan said.
Owen said there are “numerous organizations that responsibly use the word ‘bureau,’” which he added “does not require approval by any government agency for use, and is not inherently misleading.”
Both Jacqueline Ashwell, superintendent of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which includes the Arizona Memorial, and Andrew Munoz, regional spokesman for the park service’s Pacific West Region, said they know of the Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau.
“We are aware of the situation and are working to address it. We do not have anything further to share because it is an ongoing process,” Munoz said.
An official said Pearl Harbor tour companies in the past have improperly appropriated elements of official and governmental appearance, and a cease-and-desist letter sent by the park service was sufficient to remedy the situation.
Four museums operate at Pearl Harbor: the Arizona Memorial, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, and Battleship Missouri Memorial.
More than 1.5 million people a year visit the Arizona Memorial.
Official reactions mixed
Some officials said they had a problem with representations made by the Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau, while others did not. They did not want to go on record speaking about a tour company that brings in business.
One official said tours purchased through the Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau are farmed out to transportation companies that have approved access to the Arizona Memorial, and Owen receives a commission from them in return. The individual said working with Owen on the business end of the arrangement has not been a problem.
The “Beyond the call to duty Pearl Harbor luxury tour,” which includes all four sites, costs $199 through the Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau. The bare-bones “Pearl Harbor excursion” is $39.99. Both include pickup in Waikiki.
The National Park Service said over 100 local transportation companies have “commercial use authorizations” to bring tourists to the Arizona Memorial.
Key to the arrangement is securing park service tickets for a 23-minute documentary film and boat launch to the memorial itself. The USS Arizona Memorial program actually is free. For the average 4,000 visitors per day, more than 1,300 free tickets are given out on a walk-in, first-come, first-served basis starting at 7 a.m.
“The rest of the tickets have been reserved by individuals, schools, tour companies, military units, or other groups,” the Valor in the Pacific monument says on its website.
Tickets separate from the 1,300 are available at recreation.gov for individuals with a $1.50 convenience fee and tour companies.
An “alumni speaker” page put out by Hawaii Pacific University notes that Owen holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the university and spent 15 years leading Discover Hawaii Tours.
Among the offerings at the Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau site is a wealth of Pearl Harbor and World War II historical information.
“We provide a more comprehensive website that is intended to be educational and easy to use,” Owen said in the email. “In addition, we answer hundreds of questions each month via our email and phone number from prospective visitors, and are happy to provide that service.”