State marketing contractor files bid protest after losing $34M contract to competitor

The dispute raises issues of how to both attract and manage visitors.
Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 6:54 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 22, 2022 at 10:30 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau — which has marketed Hawaii tourism for more than a century — is protesting the state’s award of the lucrative contract to a competitor.

With the growing public backlash over too many visitors, the state Hawaii Tourism Authority recently canceled its 2022-2024 contract award to the HVCB — then put it out to bid again.

The new winner was the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, which drew heavy criticism from the hotel industry and prompted the HVCB to file its bid protest.

“Anytime you change the (request for proposals) and you gear it towards the group that didn’t win — i.e. reducing the importance of marketing which is what this contract is all about — it feels rigged,” said Keith Vieira of KV and Associates and a former hotel executive

The contract is for 18 months and worth more than $34 million. Supporters of CNHA aren’t surprised by the industry’s reaction.

“So the HVCB model is that part of their money comes from these marketing contracts and part of their money comes from industry memberships. So by definition, it is going to be answering to the industry,” said Ann Botticelli, former journalist and a member of the CNHA’s transition team.

“I think that model is probably past its prime.”

CNHA officials said the HTA is transitioning from a mass marketer of Hawaii tourism to an agency that also tries to mitigate the negative impacts of tourism on residents.

Vieira shot back:

“That’s just plain... I’m gonna say stupid. How do we get revenue? Where does the $2.5 billion in tax that we get from the visitor industry going come from,” he said.

“How can you keep the economic engine for the state going?”

Vieira added that CNHA doesn’t have enough marketing and tourism experience.

Members of the CNHA team disagree.

“I think some people characterize this RFP as a marketing RFP — and it’s not,” said Frank Haas, a longtime tourism industry executive and member of the CNHA transition team. “It’s clearly a marketing and a destination management RFP.”

The HVCB’s current contract expires at the end of the month.

If the bid dispute isn’t resolved by then, the HTA will handle the marketing duties in the interim.

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