Faced with ‘use it or lose it’ deadline, tourism authority allocates funding

Published: May. 27, 2021 at 9:39 PM HST|Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 10:14 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii Tourism Authority’s board has allocated more than $12 million that it would have been forced to return to the state.

The money comes from the tourism special fund, which the state legislature voted to end.

“The tourism special fund is set to sunset as of Dec. 31. As of Jan. 1, it would no longer exist,” HTA Chief Administrative Officer Keith Regan told board members Thursday.

The board had to encumber the funds before then.

“In essence, anything not encumbered by June 30 would eventually revert and be swept into the general fund of the state of Hawaii,” Regan added.

The funding includes $1.5 million for a reservation program for state parks and trails, $2 million for agri-tourism, cultural tourism and nature tourism, and $1 million to increase Hawaiian language and culture at Hawaii airports.

There’s also $500,000 to increase the number of Aloha Ambassadors in Waikiki for the expected summer visitor surge.

“I think it’s exactly what the community is looking for in a lot of these,” said Fred Atkins, a board member.

“We’re saying we’re not just gonna put this type of plan in a file cabinet and look at it five years from now. We’re implementing. We’re moving forward.”

While the HTA had to encumber the funds for those programs, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll get those amounts.

“Encumbered doesn’t mean spent,” said HTA board chair, George Kam. “Encumbered is just that you’re in the position where we have it encumbered, so that it gives you permission, that it’s in there.”

The tourism authority’s funding dilemma come as visitor numbers quickly rebound after tourism was allowed to resume. The legislature also didn’t fund the HTA for the coming fiscal year, adding more pressure to specify where the current special funds will go.

“The bottom line is that the board and the staff, frankly, does not want to lose funds because we did not encumber in time,” said HTA president and CEO John DeFries. “And it’s being prompted by the uncertainty that we’re living in right now about what life is going to be like from July 1 forward.”

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