Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.


Hawaii’s West Maui to Fully Reopen to Tourism on November 1

4 months ago

Maui’s western region will be fully reopened to the public on November 1, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen announced on Monday. The reopened will area span Kahana to Ka’anapali. Only burned-out sections of the historic Lahaina will remained closed.

The reopening date will be nearly three months after the devastating wildfires in West Maui that started on August 8. The wildfires caused the deaths of nearly 100 and displaced thousands of people.

The November 1 date is meant to signal a time when businesses and workers can make their preparations, said Bissen. Maui’s tourism sector faces a long road to recovery. In the wake of the fires, tourists and tour operators canceled trips, airlines reduced their flights, hotel occupancy rates nosedived and unemployment soared.

Many hotels in Maui are currently sheltering the nearly 7,000 displaced residents, none of whom will lose their housing, said Bisen. “The Red Cross has assured me that housing for displaced Lāhainā residents, including those staying in hotels, is not in jeopardy,” he said.

Government officials initially planned to reopen West Maui in three phases. The first phase started on October 8 with the area from Ritz-Carlton, Kapaula to Kahana Villia being re-opened to the public.

The timeline change came about after repeated discussions between the mayor’s Lahaina Advisory Team, the American Red Cross and other partners, as well as community feedback about the first phase of the reopening.


Hawaii to Reopen West Maui to Tourists in October

6 months ago

Hawaii will reopen most of West Maui to tourists starting on October 8, Governor Josh Green announced on Friday. Only Lahaina will remain closed to the public. Tourists will be able to visit Kā‘anapali, Nāpili, Honokōwai, and Kapalua.

“Beginning October 8, all travel restrictions will end and West Maui will be open to visitors again, so people from Hawaii and around the world can resume travel to this special place and help it begin to recover economically,” said Governor Green. “This difficult decision is meant to bring hope for recovery to the families and businesses on Maui that have been so deeply affected in every way by the disaster.”

In early August, a series of wildfires swept through portions of West Maui, killing over 100 people, displacing thousands of people and causing billions in property damage.

In Lahaina, county, state and federal emergency responders are continuing efforts to identify victims and the missing and cleaning up debris and hazardous materials left by the fire.


Norwegian Cruise to Return to Maui in September

6 months ago

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America will resume its weekly trips to Kahului, Maui starting on September 3, the cruise company announced on Wednesday. Norwegian Cruise suspended trips to the island in early August to avoid taking up local resources dedicated toward relief and combating the wildfires in West Maui.

In the aftermath of the devastating wildfires in West Maui, airlines, tour operators and tourists reduced their trips to the island. Maui, which is dependent on tourism, has seen unemployment soar. 

State and local officials welcomed Norwegian Cruise’s return and hope more businesses will follow. “We are encouraging travelers and visitor industry companies, such as Norwegian Cruise Line, to make a responsible return to the island, visiting the many areas that were not impacted by the fires and are welcoming travelers back,” said Kalani Ka‘anā‘anā, chief brand officer of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority.


Hawaii Tourism Authority CEO De Fries Will Step Down in September

8 months ago

John De Fries will step down as president and CEO of Hawaii Tourism Authority effective September 15. ​De Fries did not accept an invitation from the board to extend his three-year employment contract.

He became president and CEO in September 2020 amid the pandemic. He was the first native Hawaiian to lead the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Once in the position, he tried to put a greater emphasis on destination management in response to community dissatisfaction with tourism’s impact on the environment and resident quality of life.

The island’s tourism agency had missteps in its attempts to change course. It had a messy procurement process to award the multi-million contract to market the island to the mainland U.S. 

Under De Fries’ time, the legislature stripped away the agency’s autonomy. Lawmakers removed its transient accommodation source and its state procurement exemption.

Hawaii’s lawmakers almost dissolved the agency in a recent legislative session. The agency came out of the session without a state budget and now has to submit funding requests to the governor, who will vet them with lawmakers.

De Fries was invited to extend his contract in the March board meeting. After the recent legislative session, he told the board on May 9 he would not extend his extension.


Hawaii Awards U.S. Tourism Marketing Contract to Convention Bureau

9 months ago

The Hawaii Tourism Authority has awarded the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau the contract to market the island to the mainland U.S., the island’s largest source market, the agency announced Monday. The contract is worth over $38 million, has a two and a half year term with an option of a two-year extension and is scheduled to begin on June 22. 

The U.S. tourism marketing contract has had a rough procurement process. It was previously combined with destination management into one single contract by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. That contract was awarded last year to the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, a community non-profit, as part of the state tourism agency’s pivot to a more sustainable approach to tourism and improve relations with residents. The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau has traditionally won the U.S. marketing contract and is backed the hotels.

The original contract’s implementation was stalled by legal protests from the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau then canceled at the last minute by a government official. The Hawaii Tourism Authority broke it up into two separate contracts, one for destination management and another for marketing, which is going to the convention bureau.

The agency awarded the destination management contract to the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement. It’s worth over $27 million for a two and a half year period with an option for two one-year extensions. It’s scheduled to begin June 20.

Finally, the contract to market to Canada went to VoX International, is worth $2.4 million, has an initial two and a half year term with an option for one two-year extension and is scheduled to begin June 30.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority said the contract winners will advance the agency’s regenerative model of tourism. A key focus for contract performance will be resident sentiment improvement.


Hawaii to Award U.S. Tourism Marketing Contract Despite Funding Cuts

10 months ago

The Hawaii Tourism Authority plans to move forward with its plans to award an expensive contract to market Hawaii to the U.S. mainland, despite not being allocated funding from the legislature for the next two years. The decision was made at a board meeting Tuesday, according to Honolulu Star Advertiser (paywall). The contract is worth up to $51.3 million.

The other contracts the agency plans to move forward with are one for destination management, which is worth $34 million, and another for marketing to Canada, which is worth $2.8 million. All contract winners will be selected on May 22nd. Each contract spans at least two years. 

When it comes to funding, the agency has a rough road ahead. Last week, it was left out of the official state budget at the end of the legislative session. It will get funds from money set aside by lawmakers for deferred maintenance projects. Requests for funds will have to be approved by the governor and lawmakers.

The contracting process for the U.S. market has been far from smooth. It’s been delayed by legal disputes, canceled by an outgoing public official and forced to restart.

A major point of contention was the award of the contract to a native community non-profit over Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, which has historically won the U.S. marketing contract. Another was that it was combined with destination management under one contract.  These moves are part of the agency’s attempts to take a more sustainable approach to tourism that takes resident needs and interest more into account.

The failure to award the contract was one of the reasons lawmakers almost dissolved the agency in the recent legislative session.


Hawaii Tourism’s Future Will Have Much Less Marketing

10 months ago

On Thursday, the Hawaii Tourism Authority was officially excluded from the state budget and now has to request funds from the state’s budgeting and finance department. The governor and legislature will vet the funding requests, putting the agency under their scrutiny. 

“We understand that our spending will be more scrutinized, and we recognize that we have a lot of work ahead,” said John De Fries, president and CEO of HTA. The funds for the agency will come from the $200 million lawmakers set aside to address a variety of deferred maintenance projects, a lawmaker told Reuters. ​​

During the legislative process, HTA requested a $75 million budget for this year and a $60 million budget for next year. Before the session ended, it was almost left with only enough funds to repair the convention center roof, keep the lights on and retain staff. The new funding agreement was between legislators, the governor and lieutenant governor.

With greater control over the purse strings, government officials will make sure the agency deprioritizes marketing and focus more on destination management. In a statement, Governor Josh Green said,”it is important that we figure out how we can shift this agency from its focus of marketing tourism to more strategically looking at destination management that would attract and educate responsible visitors.”

The agency has seen its autonomy and funding stripped away by the Hawaiian legislature over the last few years. Residents have been frustrated with tourism’s impacts on their quality of life and environment. Acting on their behalf, lawmakers have cut its budget, removed its transient accommodation source, removed its state procurement exemption and demanded more destination management work.

To mitigate overtourism and service residents, the agency incorporated a locals-first approach, which included a pivot away from mass tourism marketing and taking on destination management responsibilities. 

One major move toward the approach was the award of a $34 million marketing and destination management contract to a native community non-profit over the hotel industry-backed  Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, which has historically marketed Hawaii. Due to legal battles, the contract was stalled, then a government official’s last minute interference canceled the contract. The agency had to restart the process.

Jumping off the contract award debacle, lawmakers pushed a bill to dissolve the Hawaii Tourism Authority and replace it with an office focused more on destination management and less on marketing. The bill came close to passage but was deferred last week due to lawmakers not reaching consensus on it.


Hawaii Is Close to Shutting Down Tourism Marketing Agency

11 months ago

The Hawaii Tourism Authority may not be around for long. Last week, the state legislature’s House committee approved a Senate bill that would repeal the Hawaii Tourism Authority and create a government office dedicated solely to destination management, leaving the island without a tourism marketing agency. The bill now has to face two hearings before leaving the House, bringing it closer to passage.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority has had a strained relationship with the legislature. Lawmakers have questioned its necessity, slashed its budget, removed its state procurement exemption and took away its transient accommodation tax fund source. 

Hawaiian residents have been frustrated with overtourism. Feeling their quality of life and environment has suffered, they have asserted themselves and are no longer spectators in how tourism is managed. “What I’m cognizant of now is that communities are intently watching the visitor industry,” Hawaii Tourism Authority CEO De Fries told Skift

Photo credit: Braden Jarvis

The agency’s recent failure to award a two-year destination marketing and management contract was the last straw for the legislature. It repeatedly redid the procurement process and endured legal troubles and delays. It mostly recently had to split the contract between marketing and destination marketing and put both out to bid after a senior government official canceled minutes before his departure.

For the last few years, the Hawaii Tourism Authority has tried to pursue a sustainable approach. This has involved listening to residents, taking on more destination management responsibilities and pivoting away from mass tourism marketing.


Hawaii Tourism Hits Reset on U.S. Marketing Contract

1 year ago

The Hawaii Tourism Authority put two contracts up to bid, one for marketing to the U.S. and the other for destination management, on February 14.  The two contracts are essentially a split of the previous one that included both responsibilities and had been awarded to a community non-profit. A government official canceled the it minutes before his term ended on December 5.

The island’s tourism agency is redoing a procurement process that originally represented its shift toward a “local-first” approach. In June, the agency awarded the previous contract (worth $34 million) to Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement over Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB), which currently markets the island to the U.S. and has done so for over decades with strong support from the traditional tourism industry. The bureau stalled the original contract’s start date through legal protests.

Under the procurement process reset, there’s now a scenario where the convention bureau may end up winning the U.S. marketing contract. The contract would start on June 1, 2023 and end on December 31, 2025.