Hawaii Tourism Authority faces $30M budget cut after 'abusive' spending

Hawaii Tourism Authority faces $30M budget cut after 'abusive' spending
Updated: Feb. 28, 2018 at 6:49 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - On the heels of a scathing audit of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, some state lawmakers want to cut the HTA's marketing budget and get rid of its exemption to state procurement laws.

One bill now moving through the state Senate takes $30 million from the HTA's marketing budget. Senate Ways and Means Chair Donovan Dela Cruz said the money could be used to pay for environmental stresses and other costs of having so many tourists.

"A lot of people brought up concerns about visitor impacts and we're reaching ten million visitors (a year)," he said.

"So do we continue to have the HTA have a budget of $80-plus million when we've already reached what people feel is a heightened capacity."

Another potential target: the HTA's procurement exemption.

In the past, state lawmakers gave the agency freedoms from state purchasing rules so it could compete with other visitor destinations.

But the state Legislative Auditor Les Kondo recently concluded that the HTA abused that privilege and didn't properly manage its money, especially when it came to money spent on contractor AEG Management HCC, which operates the state convention center.

"We saw that AEG was reimbursed for first-class airfare, almost $50,000 for air fare, which included $8,000 of air fare for round trip for Australia. We saw they were reimbursed for cost of hotel at the Ko Olina Resort, as well as the Royal Hawaiian hotel," said Kondo.

"To spend that money for those kinds of reason … that's excessive. That's an abuse of the discretion."

The HTA didn't directly responding to the criticisms but late Wednesday afternoon, AEG did agree to repay the HTA for the questionable travel expenses.

HTA CEO George Szigeti said the HTA should be credited for attracting more visitors than ever.

"We are proud of the role that the HTA has held in helping to create travel demand for Hawaii and improving the brand of the state," he said.

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