Monday, March 30, 2009


DERAILING THE GRAVY TRAINING: Back sometime in the early 80’s when Ronnie Ray-Gun was busy chest-thumping at the Ruskies like Bonzo there was a particularly tense period when the frenzy was so whipped-up many of America’s rabble though attack was imminent.

It was during this period of profound fear-mongering that the skies of Kaua`i were suddenly and disturbingly full of presumably military fighter jets one day, annoyingly buzzing residential neighborhoods for hours on end.

The noise and indeed the earth-shaking became too much and we called the FAA to complain.

After a tirade basically asking “what the f--- is going on” we were put on hold for about five minutes before being told- and we kid you not- “don’t worry... they’re ours.”

“We don’t care who the hell’s they are” we screamed “stop it- now.”

We tell this story because even this clueless bit of federal paternalism had nothing on our very own local brand, as exhibited by Kaua`i Councilmembers Jay Furfaro and Dickie Chang at last Wednesday’s (3/25) meeting when discussion turned to a bill to appropriate a half a million dollars to shove down the rat hole of tourism promotion.

It’s bad enough that the county is once again throwing money at an industry that provides at best crappy jobs cleaning toilets with our tongues for substandard wages while it scoops up most of the wads of incoming cash for outgoing designation. It’s bad enough that there’s never any credible evidence that more advertising does anything to increase tourist numbers... assuming that’s a good thing in the first place. And it’s bad enough that the administration wants to do this while they are putting essential county services on the back burner by refusing to allow departments to fill vital open positions.

But when the bill came up for first reading before the council there was not only no specific information for the public- even after we requested it preceding the meeting- the reading was followed by a perfunctory “don’t worry your pretty little head- we’ve seen a plan... and it’s ok” from Furfaro and Chang.

But the public wasn’t even going to get that much until council watchdog Glenn Mickens got up and asked, as we asked the FAA, “what the f--- is going on“ eliciting the “don’t worry they’re ours” from the two tourism-industry, council-embedded shills.

Presumably if no one said anything the bill would, as we see all the time with “money bills”, go to a pubic hearing, one committee meeting and a final second reading, all without a peep out of anyone on the council or administration on anything but a barest of bones plan for spending... if that.

There is supposedly a plan- something about somehow bribing the “wholesalers” of vacation packages according to Furfaro and Chang who sought to hush Mickens up after his testimony by telling him they’d seen the plan and it was okay with them so shut up sit down and let us worry about it.

Mickens testimony described a few choice past rat holes for tourism promotion money which the industry has conned out of the county without any accountability or measurable “bang for the buck”.

Mickens asked a simple question that people have been asking for years- if we’re going to spend all this money why not do the one thing that will insure we get warm bodies on the ground... distribute vouchers for the tourists themselves for airfare, presumably on any flight into Kaua`i.

But we might never have even heard anything about the idiotic and thread-bare drivel-heavy plan had it not been for an article by a relatively new yet excellent reporter at the local paper, Michael Levine- asking some questions and apparently getting a hold of a “report” of sorts from new county Director of Economic Development George Costa after the meeting.

Levine describes the “plan” which is heavy on vague categorical generalities with a dearth of actual details of distribution of the money or any feedback or accountability mechanism.

Though it’s not apparent whether Levine actually saw a plan or just got a description of it, it appears to be another of these advertising based boondoggles throwing money at a bunch of pre-selected targeted “wholesalers” that will supposedly promote other unlisted pre-selected businesses, presumably corporate off-island owned hotels and tour businesses

Levine writes:

“The main emphasis of the program is working with wholesalers to drive new bookings to Kaua`i over a wide variety of properties and to encourage spending in local businesses through a coupon book that will be created in partnership with the Kaua`i Chamber of Commerce,” he said. “Based on Hawai`i Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism visitor spending statistics, the $500,000 being requested for the marketing program is estimated to generate approximately $15 to 17 million in our island economy.”

Oh, is that the same DBED&T that is slated by some legislators for demolition and is famous for erroneous statistics and throwing STATE money down their rat hole?

The proposal shows that the $500,000 described as “Phase I” would include $250,000 to be split evenly among five wholesale partners or online travel agencies, and the coupon book described by Costa will likely be a part of that plan.

Oh boy- coupon books- a bunch of worthless “buy one get one free” and “free gift with purchase” coupons that are 99% useless crap, as most tourists know.

The proposal listed the top five such partners for Kaua`i as Pleasant Holidays, Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz and Blue Sky Tours.

And what exactly are we going to do- bribe them to get them to trick people into coming to Kaua`i?.. When you click-on Florida you get Kaua`i? What happens if Honolulu pays them $251,000 to send them to Waikiki?

“Sixty-five percent of our room nights on Kaua`i come from 12 major wholesalers,” said Council Vice Chair Jay Furfaro in response to Mickens’ testimony.

This isn’t being directed at trade shows, he said, it’s being directed at “key customers we refer to as wholesalers.”

Furfaro recently cut all his job-related ties to the tourism industry where he spent his whole life working as an executive, after being continually caught in conflicts of interest, and now that such ties require recusal.

Also included in the proposal was $170,000 for a kama`aina campaign encouraging locals on other Hawaiian Islands to visit Kaua`i, with a special focus on military personnel. The 50th anniversary celebration for South Pacific, scheduled for September, would receive $30,000, and $25,000 apiece would go to a radio show and to Kaua`i Visitors Bureau administration fees.

Oh boy- more advertising... and event support. That’ll work... and if it doesn’t how will we know? As usual the answer to that is unquantifiable... so shut up Parx.

Phase II, which would cost another $500,000 and could be funded through the upcoming budget process, would allocate another $250,000 to five wholesale partners, $170,000 to the kama`aina campaign, $40,000 to a “Northwest Blitz” and $25,000 apiece to a radio show and to Kaua`i Visitors Bureau administration fees.

Yes folks this only fills up half of the rat hole.

Only either a complete idiot or the recipients of kickbacks could possibly think that increasing advertising will get more people to come to Hawai`i or specifically Kaua`i these days.

Presumably these dunderheads have been to the mainland and talked to people there. Have they ever found one person who never heard of Hawai`i much less one who has to be convinced to come here, all else being equal?

Of course not. People on the mainland don’t need to be reminded how much they want to come here, possibly over every other single visitor destination around the world. It’s at the top of the list for everyone’s “dream vacation”.

So what’s stopping them?.. the fact that they didn’t see a 30 second clip of bikini clad beach-goers or fake hula dancers?

What are we- a bunch a freakin idiots? It’s the cost you shemageggis. “Everyone knows” the airfare is outrageous, the hotel rooms and rent-a-cars are out of sight and on and on.

Whether this is actually true doesn’t matter because people belive it is and no amount of advertising saying “no really- it’s not that expensive” will cause them to experience a pissy-foot as rain.

The only thing that will get them here is actual good-as-cash vouchers, as Glenn suggested. And not those lousy restricted ones that can only go to one or two specific business... which have already raised their prices by $200 in anticipation of participating in that kind of scam... a scam most mainlanders have seen and won’t get taken in with again.

$1 million would translate to 5000 $200 vouchers to be used unrestricted on any airline as Glenn suggested.

Actually we’d suggest they be used for any business on Kaua`i too and perhaps use them to leverage a “double your Kaua`i Voucher” program for participating airlines or businesses to get a bigger bang for the buck.

The boneheads in tourism promotion are quite obviously either clueless.. or corrupt.

With no accountability with strictly advertising-based promotions. That assures that there is no feedback mechanism to establish it’s effectiveness in solid verifiable numbers. So they can never be held accountable and hold their jobs forever whether they perform or not.

Just look at this hilarious paragraph from an article in the local paper this weekend from Sue Kanoho executive director of the Kaua`i Visitors Bureau:

The second assumption I often hear is that they think all KVB does is “just place print advertising” to get the word out about Kaua`i. In fact, KVB has a myriad of areas that we focus on to market the island. In addition to print advertising, KVB also does television spots and television programs, radio ads, outdoor advertising, e-marketing, webinars, travel trade advertising, trade shows, product launches, destination training, wholesaler cooperatives, event marketing, familiarization tours, research and last, but not least, and one of the most important elements…. public relations.

Uh, Sue, maybe the problem is that all you can think of to do is advertise, no matter what the medium.

It’s evocative of a line from the movie The Blues Brothers where the patrons of the chicken-wire bar where they’re about to play tell them “We like both kinds of music- country AND western”.

The reason for this mindset is perhaps that they belive the only way to get people here is to con them into doing it, implying that otherwise they would never come.

That may be true of other locales but these marketing geniuses, many of whom come from other places where they cut their visitors destination marketing teeth, have no understanding of the built in desirability of the local product- Hawai`i itself- whether in reality or through the fantasy that mainland denizens hold in their mind of the islands as the ultimate destination.

If you ask them the only obstacle in their minds is cost. So why not give them something real that will also assure the behavior we seek along with a built in unambiguous accounting of where the money went and exactly what we got for it?

Actually we shouldn’t be spending a nickel on promoting someone else’s business- it’s amazing how quickly entrepreneurial free-market zealots turn into promoters of a welfare state when the handout is for them.

But if these gullible politicians feel they have to spend money on tourism promotion it’s time to stop the corrupt kick-back-ready system of advertising a product that couldn’t be any more desirable... unless it were free.

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