Insight Hawaii Insight At tourism conference, encouragement amid fears of slowdown By Shane Nelson / August 26, 2013 Share 1 -- Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) President and CEO Mike McCartney kicked off last week’s two-day Hawaii Tourism Conference in bare feet, holding a pair of dark socks high above his head to assure a group of about 700 industry stakeholders that his morning hadn’t begun the way he’d intended.Apparently a series of unforeseen challenges caused McCartney to hurry out of his home Aug. 22 without a pair of shoes, an anecdote that had attendees roaring with laughter. But it also offered the state’s tourism chief an opportunity to make a point about perseverance. “There’ll be bumps in the road,” he said. “There’ll be things like forgetting your shoes one day. But what do you do? You just keep going. You pull up your socks. You wear slippers, and you share aloha with everyone.” When faced with adversity, a similar resolve would serve Hawaii’s visitor industry well, McCartney said, adding that “as we go forward, we must always remember our competitive advantage, which is our people, our place and our culture.” A reduced rate of tourism industry growth was a key challenge outlined in a later presentation by David Uchiyama, the HTA’s vice president of brand management, who said the organization expects more than 8.4 million visitors will travel to Hawaii in 2013, a 5.6% increase over the record total posted by the destination in 2012. “We will continue to grow in 2014, but at a slightly slower pace,” he added. The HTA is forecasting a 3.2% visitor increase in 2014 while projecting expenditures will climb 5.1%, to more than $16 billion. However, arrivals from U.S. states west of the Rockies, Hawaii’s largest source market, are expected to be flat in 2014, while those from the east are forecast to increase less than a percentage point. Uchiyama cautioned that the outlook for 2015-17 was much less rosy, due in part to the increasing cost of a Hawaii vacation, which has climbed more than 18% since the low point of the global economic crisis in 2009. “If we don’t make adjustments now, we are leading ourselves into another firestorm,” he said. Although Jay Talwar, chief marketing officer of the Hawaii Visitors and Conventions Bureau (HVCB), acknowledged that the rising cost of an Aloha State vacation is something his organization is monitoring closely, he touted strong year-over-year growth from several U.S. markets through June, noting an increase of more than 1.2 million air seats to the Hawaiian Islands from North America since 2009. He also updated the conference on the HVCB’s plans to boost sagging demand from Chicago and Dallas with month-long marketing saturations scheduled to take over the Windy City this September. A combination of print, online and TV advertising, public relations efforts and travel trade events, the September blitz will be followed by another in Chicago during January and February and a March saturation in Dallas. “The travel trade team will be focused on training and education, making sure people who are selling the destination are really educated and comfortable selling all six Hawaiian Islands,” Talwar said of the market saturations’ agent outreach strategy. For more about the HVCB’s upcoming trade events, contact Julie Zadeh, the organization’s director of travel trade marketing, at email@example.com.