Kahele named chairman of new Senate committee


A Hawaii Island senator will be taking over a new committee this legislative session.

The state Senate’s leadership selected Sen. Gil Kahele, D-Hilo, to chair the newly formed Tourism Committee. The appointment was effective as of Monday. Tourism issues were previously heard in a Tourism and Hawaiian Affairs committee. Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said the body’s leadership wanted to provide a “greater opportunity to focus on the individual subject areas.”

Sen. Brickwood Galuteria, D-Waikiki, was chairman of the Tourism and Hawaiian Affairs Committee and now serves as the Senate’s majority leader. Kahele said Monday he plans to sit down with Galuteria and see which issues were left unfinished last session.

“I’ll look for things in there and see how I can help,” Kahele said, adding he intends to consult with tourism industry experts and leaders before taking action in this committee. “Sometimes things are looked at and not done. I like to follow up.”

He said his goal is “not to reinvent the wheel. But maybe add more spokes, to make it stronger and better.”

Kahele said he is excited about the opportunity to work with industry officials and he noted tourism is the state’s No. 1 economic generator.

Although he intends to maintain a statewide approach in the committee, he said he sees a few areas in which Hawaii Island might look to boost tourism, particularly in East Hawaii. Banyan Drive, for example, is a beautiful location that is in need of attention, Kahele said.

“Not all visitors come here for sun and surf,” Kahele said. “There are so many other things Hilo has to offer. We need to get visitors to spend a couple nights in Hilo.”

Hilo offers more than access to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, he added.

Kahele said he also wants to see tourism emphasize contact with local people. That can help “get that feeling of aloha to our visitors.”