In a letter sent to his attention last week, Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, Lt. Gov. James R. "Duke" Aiona, Jr., Hawaii's four county mayors and 90 other industry stakeholders explained to President Barack Obama the importance of conventions, meetings and incentive rewards (CMI) to the Hawaiian economy and asked him to oppose any legislation that would unfairly penalize companies for holding legitimate business events there.
"The economic challenge facing our nation has imposed a significant impact on domestic and international travel," Hawaii officials wrote. "Hawaii's economy is largely dependent on tourism and the drop in activity has resulted in dramatic declines in our economy with a corresponding impact on businesses, including closures and job losses."
According to the letter, CMI business travelers accounted for 7 percent of total visitor arrivals to Hawaii—or 442,000 visitors—last year.
"In this period of economic downturn when our government and businesses are striving to restore economic stability, the last thing we should do is implement policies or encourage behavior that jeopardizes any industry," officials continued, "especially one that has such far-reaching impact on communities across America."
So far this year, officials reported, 132 groups have cancelled meetings and incentive trips to Hawaii, representing a total loss in direct revenue of $58.8 million and an overall economic impact to the state of $97.6 million.
While some cancellations were likely a matter of budget, tourism representatives expressed concern that many might have been the result of fear over the recent public backlash against meetings and events by Congress and the media, members of which have publicly chided companies such as AIG and Wells Fargo—recipients of federal bailout money—for their meetings expenditures.
"Visitors who come to the islands for conventions, meetings and incentive rewards are a very important part of our visitor mix," Hawaii officials concluded in their letter. "There has been great concern, therefore, about the adverse effects caused by the well-intentioned efforts to address the problem of corporate excess and business travel for the companies who have received emergency funding from the government. It has caused a further downturn in CMI travel, especially for Hawaii, where we have struggled to position our islands as a place to do business, as well as a leisure vacation destination."
If you want to read Hawaii officials' letter in its entirely, you can download a copy of it from www.hawaii.gov.