Hawaii's hotel industry protests proposed tax hike

Henry Perez
Henry Perez
Flora Bumanglag
Flora Bumanglag
Avery Jordan
Avery Jordan
Merly Jordan
Merly Jordan

By Leland Kim bio | email

WAIKIKI (KHNL) - Hawaii state lawmakers were planning to override a series of tax increase vetoes Gov. Linda Lingle (R-Hawaii) was expected to sign Thursday afternoon. Hotel workers say any tax hike would be devastating to their industry, especially during a time when tourism numbers are at a record low.

They made the rounds Thursday afternoon at the Hawaii state Capitol with signs protesting the proposed tax hike. They say this is the wrong time an their goal is to send a strong message to lawmakers.

It's sights like these that make people travel far and wide to come to Hawaii. Avery and Merly Jordan flew in from Anderson, South Carolina.

"It's been very special," said Avery Jordan.

"We love the weather and the people are so very nice," added his wife Merly Jordan.

But a senate bill (SB 1111) could make it more expensive for visitors to come to our islands. It raises hotel room tax two percent in two years.

The concern is the tax hike on top of the soft economy, on top of the tourism slowdown could further cripple an industry that's already struggling and make visitors virtually disappear.

That's why hotel employees say this is the wrong time to target tourism.

"I just could not believe that one of the places they were looking to take money was to go after the visitor industry especially how committed the visitor industry has been to Hawaii," said Henry Perez, an executive with Aqua Hotels and Resorts, which operates 12 hotels and employees 500 employees in Waikiki.

"If they're going to raise taxes, that means we're not going to have jobs or they're going to have to do layoffs," said Flora Bumanglag, a housekeeper at Aqua Hotels.

The governor does not support tax hikes, but the legislature says they're necessary to balance the budget. If they become law, the total hotel room tax would go from 11.96 percent to 12.96 percent in July, then go up to 13.96 percent in 2010.

That tax would exceed taxes in St. Thomas (8.00 percent) Las Vegas (9.00 percent), San Diego (12.59 percent) and even Cancun (13.00 percent).

The increase would make it tougher for folks to visit Hawaii.

"We'll just go somewhere else like Myrtle Beach that's close to us," said Avery Jordan. "It's not quite Hawaii but we'd have to choose somewhere else because it's pretty expensive already."

"A lot of people don't have a job right now," added Merly Jordan. "So we struggled just to be able to come here, too."

Hotel workers want to avoid a further decline in tourism, so they're hoping to send a strong message to lawmakers.

"I think they looked at one area," said Perez. "Let's just pass it on to somebody who doesn't live in this state, let them pay for it, but they don't realize that it's affecting the people who live in this state."

Hotel occupancy is down thirty to forty percent. Travel agencies are also concerned folks will bypass Hawaii and choose other locations.