Budget cuts may be on the horizon for HTA, its community programs

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Tourism is ramping back up just as House Bill 862 could cut the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s budget and some of its key programs.

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The bill went to the full Senate vote Tuesday and passed.

“We’re taking away some responsibilities from them,” said Sen. Glenn Wakai, chair of energy, economic development and tourism. “We’re going to make them only focus on branding and marketing Hawaii to the world. We’re going to take away their responsibility for Hawaiian culture, community and natural resources.”

The proposed bill would also take away HTA’s safety and security programs.

“I’m in a state of shock today, because our program is really important,” said Jessica Lani Rich, President of the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii program. “We care about our visitors. You take our program away from someone who has just lost their husband or their wife from a drowning or an airplane crash. You’re on your own, is this really the message we will send out to our visitors?”

VASH has serviced visitors since 1998 and played a pivotal role during the COVID-19 shutdown.

“We also sent back 385 quarantine violators. We pivoted and did that. We donated airline tickets, we helped with changing fees and what we did was help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep our residents safe,” said Rich.

The HTA says, losing a program like VASH is a loss for both visitors and the community.

“This becomes a high wire act without a net underneath, right, somebody to catch the things that fall through,” said John De Fries, President of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Sen. Wakai says, VASH wouldn’t have to say goodbye for good.

“VASH could very well be funded through a different mechanism. You know, I understand the connection between VASH and security and tourism, but that’s not a direct connection,” said Sen. Wakai.

Over the next two weeks, the House and Senate will negotiate over HB862. They’ll have to make an agreement by April 27th or the bill could disappear.

To learn more about HB862, click here.

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