Hawai‘i Should Adopt a “Whole of Government” Approach to Destination Management

James Mak, Blogs, Tourism


Paul Brewbaker, Frank Haas, and James Mak

Hawai‘i has a long history of publishing community-based tourism plans with various version of these plans going back to the 1970s. Despite these well-intentioned efforts, tourism in Hawai‘i has not been effectively managed and has, thus far, been unable to achieve the vision articulated by the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority: to strategically manage tourism in a sustainable manner consistent with economic goals, cultural values, preservation of natural resources, community desires, and visitor industry needs.

The shortcomings of the current state of tourism management are apparent in diminished community support for tourism, a flurry of ad hoc and disjointed responses to tourism challenges, and a frustrated legislature’s proposals to reduce tourism related funding or eliminate the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority altogether. All this recent activity has been squarely focused on fixing short-term problems and making administrative changes without addressing the underlying structural issues that have long impeded effective management. In short, the focus has been on the symptoms, not the disease, of ineffective tourism management. Finding a new and effective governance model that works for Hawai‘i  is essential because tourism will be counted on to support our overall wellbeing for the foreseeable future.

We have long argued that effective tourism management requires a different approach and structure, one which is based on long range plans and policies, enables effective coordination across all segments and levels of government, and is adequately funded. This new model has been described as a “whole of government” (WoG) approach. Whole of government “denotes public service agencies working across portfolio boundaries to achieve a shared goal and an integrated government response to particular issues.”1 WoG’s collaborative approach to public administration – which can either be formal or informal – is contrary to conventional “departmentalism” and the virtual “silos” that typically characterize government agencies. The WoG approach is an innovative alternative to the current structure that has been unable to effectively manage tourism despite years of well-intentioned plans. The WoG concept has been embraced and refined in studies done by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which includes the U.S. as a member. OECD endorses WoG as a way “to deliver more sustainable and inclusive tourism growth.”

According to OECD, effective tourism governance includes (1) a clear definition of the roles and functions of the various levels of government in tourism; (2) the engagement of the tourism industry and the community and various interest groups in the policy decision-making process; (3) adopting effective engagement mechanisms to bring together the various sectors; and (4) ensure they have appropriate authority and resources for implementation and monitoring. Arguably, Hawai‘i currently satisfies only one (#2) of the four conditions for effective governance.

For Hawai‘i, a WoG approach to tourism governance would bring about major institutional changes, and, in implementing them, require a significantly different mindset.

To begin, a shift to a WoG approach will require a high-level champion who can effectively engage the many diverse functional and geographic agencies and organizations that touch tourism along with community and industry stakeholders. Most importantly, a shift to WoG means that managing tourism in Hawai‘i would no longer be the responsibility of a single agency (currently Hawai‘i Tourism Authority) but would be a distributed responsibility requiring the coordination of all the state, county, and other organizations involved in tourism. This doesn’t mean that HTA is out of the game. It can still be a major player; indeed, it may even be the agency that is deputized to lead the charge. The main point is that other agencies would have assigned roles and functions that are well defined and linked to a broad, long-term vision and well-articulated policies.

OECD’s insights on WoG’s advantages as a tourism governance model are well documented and include case studies demonstrating the application of the principle in the real world. They cite, for example, “Tourism Forum Switzerland (TFS) which has been developed to provide a platform for dialogue, coordination and cooperation across agencies and stakeholders. Working groups consisting of representatives of the private sector, cantons, communes, the national government, and subject matter experts meet regularly and often on a temporary basis. At the Forum’s annual event, the results of the working groups are presented and the steps for the following year are discussed. Sustainability is a central aspect of the platform.”  OECD cites examples of coordination mechanisms in many other countries. The WoG approach is a framework that can be adapted to the specific conditions in Hawai‘i. One size does not fit all.

A move to a new governance model for Hawai‘i does not mean starting with a blank slate. Many of the activities embodied in the HTA’s Destination Management Action Plans are in progress. Are the actions working and are they achievable or not? If yes, why (so the learning can be understood and scaled)? If “not” why not? How can the informal system of interagency and organizational collaboration begun with the DMAPs be improved? The information from an internal study to answer these questions can be useful in crafting a new framework for tourism management.

We suggest that implementing a WoG approach for Hawai‘i would entail a series of steps:

  • Appointment by the Governor of a lead person or agency head that would work with other agencies and government organizations (at all levels), the community and other stakeholders, and draw from existing resources and plans to develop high level policies and a long-range vision for Hawai‘i tourism.
  • The lead tourism person/agency would, through interagency, stakeholder, and community collaboration, develop specific proposals linked to high level policies that would then be assigned to specific agencies.
  • Responsible agencies would be tasked with developing detailed implementation plans and budgets that would be rolled up into a legislative package and an annual state tourism action plan with key performance indicators.
  • The legislative package and plan would be included as part of the governor’s proposals for the legislature.
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs) and progress on plan implementation would be regularly reported in a tourism dashboard. Assessment of progress against these key indicators becomes feedback for continuous improvement.

We present this approach as a starting point for discussion. The specifics of a new governance model can be worked out through a collaborative process – but they should adhere to the four guiding principles of a Whole of Government approach. It is that approach that we believe will ultimately address the past impediments to effective tourism management for Hawai‘i.

Press Coverage

In an interview with Hawaii Public Radio, tourism consultant Frank Haas, economics Professor Emeritus James Mak and economist Paul Brewbaker call for a holistic governance model to help Hawaiʻi get tourism right.

Paul Brewbaker joins The Conversation to share why he thinks Hawaiʻi should look at a new model for our number one economic engine — tourism.


1 Tom Christensen and Per Laegreid, “The Whole-of-Government Approach to Public Sector Reform,” Public Administration Review, Vol. 67, No. 6, 2007, p.1060.

2 thoughts on “Hawai‘i Should Adopt a “Whole of Government” Approach to Destination Management”

  1. Greg Schmidt Schmidt

    very insightful….is possible to do but with who? Based on Hawaii’s success with other large cross functional projects, it is hard for me to visualize. Needs an autocratic approach in many respects which is contrary to culture. I’d suggest a hub and spoke approach with an autocratic leader empowered to make changes, not just call meeting with discussion and analysis if I were making a recommendation.

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