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Hawai'i Tourism Shift, is it a harbinger of things to come?

Issue #13 (657 Words/3 Minutes)

Hawai'i Tourism Shift, is it a harbinger of things to come?

"Make change, or change will be made for you."

As reported in a recently published Skift article, Hawaii Turns over Tourism Marketing to Group Rooted in Local Culture, the Hawaii Tourism Authority dropped a bombshell.

The organization's decision to award its U.S. marketing contract to a local nonprofit, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, was a radical change. For more than 100 years, the task of attracting U.S. travelers to Hawai'i has been assigned to the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau.

This shift is the latest casualty of islanders' growing unhappiness with the industry that powers much of its economy. Even in 2020, amidst pandemic-fueled, widespread unemployment for local tourism workers, a survey showed residents were rejecting the restoration of tourism.

HTA's latest action marks an unmistakable shift to a resident-first strategy. The impact is significant not just for Hawai'i but for destinations throughout the U.S. It remains to be seen whether the contract award will remain in place, as the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau is challenging it. That being said, the simple fact that a move of this magnitude can happen in a tourism-dependent economy like Hawai'i's, deserves pause and consideration.

It's too early to tell if this is an isolated reaction to visitor pressures or if it portends a new direction for tourism destinations across the country. What is clear is the existing DMO model is changing, and the extent probably depends on the destination. From an organizational perspective, Hawai'i's shift to a resident-first mindset may be an early adopter model that may be refined even in Hawai'i and other destinations. This changing mindset seems most prevalent in outdoor-focused destinations.

Smart DMOs need to step back, take a look, and rethink who and how it engages at the community level.

In years past, the tourism industry and the DMO worked primarily with each other, with some involvement from local government and very little involvement from community members. The DMO was charged with creating value from stakeholders primarily within the tourism community because much of their funding was often provided by the industry. This "closed" system has been in place for years. While many DMOs provided periodic updates to local government, it was often informational.

But that dynamic is changing, especially in places where residents experience the impact of significantly increased visitor demand. They are now voicing frustrations that, in some cases, have long been ignored. The figure below illustrates that the DMO is now charged with creating value for much more than the tourism industry.

As the shift in Hawaii indicates, residents in many destinations have become emboldened and want a greater voice in how tourism operates within the destination. In response, many DMOs have shifted to a destination management model. This move and what it means are different in every destination. Some DMOs have merely given voice to destination management, while others are aggressively changing their operating and marketing model.

In addition to an emboldened local population, the local government's role has also increased. City councils, county supervisors, and administrators are grappling with new pressures and citizen complaints. They have also become much more focused on the impacts of tourism, not just Overtourism, but also workforce housing, employment levels, net new in-migration, and more.

The DMO playing field has changed significantly since the heydays of 2010-2019. As destinations and DMOs consider their next steps, Hawai'i offers a possible glimpse into the future. Given this shocking departure, DMOs will need to consider several strategies in this changing environment; the status quo or a change in strategy and structure that reflects these market changes.

Whether other destinations embrace changes as radical as Hawai'i 's remains to be seen, what is clear is that in some destinations, the DMO model must evolve or become less relevant as residents continue to have a bigger say.

For more information contact Carl Ribaudo at

Thought provoking thought leadership.

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