Gov. Linda Lingle and more than 90 of the state's tourism industry and business leaders sent a joint letter March 31 to President Obama asking him to oppose any further restrictions against the legitimate use of corporate meetings and incentive travel.
According to the letter, more than 130 businesses and groups have canceled plans to visit Hawaii in either 2009 or 2010, costing the state $58.8 million in direct revenue and $97.6 million in terms of overall economic impact. The letter also said that the canceled CMI visits have, in turn, led to the loss of 694 tourism industry jobs.
"The reasoning behind the letter was, No. 1, there is great concern from the businesses here in Hawaii because of the amount of cancellations in corporate meetings and incentives groups that we've experienced here in the last few months," said State Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert. "And No. 2 really would be just to make the president aware of the impact that we've had here in the state."
Lingle's letter emphasized the importance of CMI travelers to the annual mix of Hawaii visitors, pointing to the 442,000 individuals who came to the state for conventions, meetings and incentive trips in 2008, making up more than 7% of last year's total arrivals.
"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 jeopardize any industry, especially one that has such far-reaching impact on communities across America," the letter said.
The letter acknowledged the need to use taxpayer dollars responsibly but also stressed the importance of legitimate CMI travel.
"While we understand the need for balance, accountability and transparency in programs supported by government funding, tourism is an industry that employs many workers who have lost, and will continue to lose, their jobs as travel declines," the letter said. "CMI travel is a cost-saving and effective tool that companies use to strengthen business relationships, align and educate employees and customers, and compensate employees for business performance."
According to Wienert, previous federal government accountability and transparency directives in the Troubled Asset Relief Program were responsible for only part of the more than 130 businesses and groups that have canceled Hawaii trips in the last several months. Those directives, however, helped create a potent residual effect.
"Then other companies, because of the negative perception, canceled as well," Wienert said. "So there was a ripple effect throughout corporate America."