Deer in the Headlights

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It is a welcoming fact that Cayetano’s suspicious appointments of political friends in his waning hours are now under scrutiny. (Honolulu Advertiser 01/26/03). In previous writings I had pointed with emphasis to Cayetano’s unusual late activities that could not wait until after the elections. Let’s not stop here but also look into appointments that are immediately affecting the tourism industry. Particularly troubling is the hastily appointment, shortly before the elections, of Rex Johnson as chief executive to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. The highest paid salary ever despite sluggish economic times. This man is in charge to control a budget for more than $60 million that is primarily spent on tourism and marketing. More troubling is the special condition attached to Johnson’s contract that allows him to draw 6 months pay after being relieved from his duties. Then there is Johnson’s sidekick, Frank Haas, the HTA’s director for marketing. Haas started out in March 2002 as free-lance marketing consultant and also was hastily changed into employment shortly before Nov. 5th. Both appointees have not come up yet with any sufficient strategies to restart tourism except excessive personal travel of the expense of the taxpayers and flip flopping on issues such as Lilo & Stitch, which may become big and excessive baggage. I have consistently pointed out that the HTA has failed to provide any leadership or ideas to implement strategies to revitalize the sluggish tourism industry. And now with new and true leadership for the state, all these appointees engage suddenly in a flurry of activities because they are beginning to realize that there are crucial requirements for their positions that are missing in their resumes. And finally after 40 years of mostly mismanagement, control and guidance is suddenly applied and they are acting like deer in the headlights. “We probably didn’t do a lot of things that we should have done, from an accountability standpoint,” sounded off Rex Johnson on Jan. 24, 2003, in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. “Sometimes you need to spend a lot to get an important customer, and sometimes you don’t,” said Haas, Johnson’s sidekick, in that same article. Haas states further: “It doesn’t make sense to set visitor targets for wartime -? or even so set a projection -? because too little is known about how long a war would last and what would do to travel trends.” Huh? There is no war on U.S. soil. We have data on Desert Storm. We could set projections on tourism without war and with war. One fact of war is, for example, that most likely the value of the dollar will fall — a tremendous advantage to foreign travel. Only travel in certain world regions will be affected. But most of all it will affect travel for U.S. citizens. That travel group will refrain to travel to foreign countries. So we should do everything possible to target this group. Not war but terrorism should be a concern. I recommend that a bit more should be done by Haas and Johnson than just to shrug their shoulders. Europe is waiting for marketing signs. They are ready to come but get no calls from the HTA or Hawaii Visitor and Convention Bureau. Will this opportunity pass again? Johnson sounds off in the Honolulu Advertiser on 01/22/03: “To have a chat with Linda Lingle to see what she wants.” Johnson doesn’t know what to do? He now wants the new Convention Marketing firm to get his approval for wining and dining expenditures. But just last year’s Travel Agent’s Convention was so lavishly provided by the HTA and HVCB, and for free, that it has raised eyebrows in the industry. And all we have gotten so far are supportive sound bytes from attendees of that convention. But what kind of results are we getting from it in exchange for millions of dollars spent? The same applies to Lilo & Stitch. Johnson recently complained that numbers are missing from the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism to control such data. There is no data, because there are no results. My recommendation; Haas and Johnson should leave gracefully and make way for true progress before they get shed. The recent unusual flurry of activities played out in the media by these two men seems to be in response to the director of DBEDT, Ted Liu’s, statement: “Other substantial department changes that have been discussed, such as shedding agencies like the Hawaii Tourism Authority, will be announced by Lingle at a later date.” (Honolulu Advertiser 01/17/03) There is light at the end of the tunnel. No more deer in the headlights … let the shedding begin. ”Dieter Thate is owner of Dieter’s Tours and Kimapa Marketing since 1993. He can be reached by email at:” ”or visit his Web site at:”