Skift Take

Hawaii gets more funding for tourism marketing than any other U.S. state and is already a well-known international destination. We recently saw how a lack of transparency led to leadership changes at Visit Florida, a lesson Hawaii and other state tourism agencies should heed.

State lawmakers are considering legislation aimed at making the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) more transparent following concerns about how the agency spends tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on marketing the islands.

Democratic Sen. Glenn Wakai is working on a bill that would end a 2010 law allowing the tourism agency to discuss “competitively sensitive” information behind closed doors, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported earlier this week.

Under the proposed legislation, the agency would be required to provide unredacted budgets to legislators.

The bill comes weeks after the agency was criticized by the Senate Ways and Means Committee for a lack of transparency as well as unsustainable spending and debt management.

HTA gets $82 million in transient accommodation taxes for marketing and operations and $26.5 million in transient accommodation taxes for the Hawaii Convention Center.

“We aren’t able to comment on the pending legislation until we have seen what’s been introduced,” Charlene Chan, HTA’s director of communications, said in an email sent by HTA’s public relations firm, Anthology.

HTA President and CEO George Szigeti and board Chairman Rick Fried have previously said their decisions meet exemptions in state public records laws.

According to the Star-Advertiser, the time designated for the public portion of HTA meetings has gone down while closed-door executive sessions have become substantially longer since Szigeti became the head of the agency in May 2015.

The newspaper had called on HTA to release the prices for individual sporting events starting in September. The agency didn’t release the information until Jan. 12 and redacted costs for eight sporting contracts in the documents.

“We take our statutory charge to protect certain competitive-sensitive contract information seriously,” HTA contract specialist Ronald Rodriguez said Friday in a letter to Star-Advertiser Editor Frank Bridgewater. “We are always balancing the public’s intrinsic right to know how its money is being spent against the unintended and potentially disastrous consequences of letting certain sensitive information fall into competitors’ hands.”

But Wakai, after reviewing previously withheld budget information, still questions HTA’s arguments for keeping such matters secret.

“The reason for their lack of transparency was clear,” Wakai said. “There were a lot of really sketchy line items.”

This article was from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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Tags: hawaii, tourism

Photo Credit: Hawaii's state senate wants the Hawaiian Tourism Authority to be more transparent with its budget and spending. Pictured is Hawaiian Governor David Y. Ige in the state capitol's legislative chambers. Hawaii Governor / Flickr