Hard hit by an epidemic of meeting cancellations, Hawaii is turning to favorite son President Barack Obama for some needed relief.
Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, the state’s four mayors, as well as 90 business, hospitality, and tourism leaders, wrote to Obama last week bemoaning Hawaii’s loss of tourism jobs and dollars, and asking him to oppose any government measures that would restrict legitimate business travel.
The letter is a response to the passage of the stimulus bill in February, which, along with regulations issued by the Treasury Department, contains some restrictions on corporate travel and events for banks and financial services companies that have received funding from the Troubled Assets Relief Program.
The language in the stimulus bill requires companies to have policies in place regarding “excessive or luxury expenditures,” including travel and events. The Treasury Department is now working on a definition of “excessive or luxury expenditures.”
“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, especially one that has such a far-reaching impact on communities all across America,” the letter states. “We … urge you to oppose any measure that would unfairly restrict the ability for companies to use CMI [conventions, meetings, and incentives] travel as a legitimate business tool.”
While the recession has affected the meetings and conventions industry throughout the United States, Hawaii, which is heavily reliant on tourism dollars, has been hit particularly hard. The state saw a 10.8 percent decline in visitor arrivals in 2008, resulting in a projected loss of $1.2 billion in tourism spending, according to the letter, and so far this year, Hawaii has lost 132 group meetings and incentives, representing a loss of 87,000 room nights and $58 million in direct revenue.