Insight Hawaii Insight HTA plans expanded Hawaii Tourism Conference in September By Shane Nelson / August 05, 2016 Share 1 -- The Hawaii Tourism Association (HTA) will host its annual Hawaii Tourism Conference from Sept. 26 to 30, expanding the event to a five-day schedule and promising a format that promotes more participation from those in attendance. "We're moving away from having lots of talking heads on panels and instead are offering moderated interactive sessions that encourage the audience to collaborate on topics important to their businesses," George Szigeti, the HTA president and CEO, said in a statement. Last year's event attracted about 1,200 tourism industry stakeholders. Officials hope this year's conference, scheduled again for the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu, will attract a more global crowd with a larger contingent from outside the Aloha State. "In the past, it's been predominantly a local audience," said Leslie Dance, the HTA's vice president of marketing and product development. "But we want it to be an international audience, and we want it to grow every year." Dance added that this year's conference has been designed as a forum for tour operators, suppliers and even travel agents. "We really want them all to engage in an interactive dialogue across our various tracks and sessions," she said. HTA officials also plan to introduce some substantial improvements to the destination's GoHawaii.com website at the conference and will hold a panel discussion about the planned upgrades, according to Dance, who indicated virtual reality will play a big new role. Attendees will all, in fact, be given Google cardboard virtual reality kits when they first enter the conference, enabling them to turn their smartphones into virtual reality machines. Dance said the event will also have a dedicated tech hub, where attendees can learn about the tourism conference's app, the GoHawaii.com improvements and additional virtual reality opportunities. "That's going to be open all day every day during the conference for people to wander through," she said of the hub. "They'll be able to experience the virtual reality tools, and they'll be able to experience conceptually how the new website is going." In addition to the new technology focus, the conference will explore themes like cultural preservation in Hawaii; the environment and sustainability; sports tourism; Hawaii's culinary appeal; and enhancing the visitor experience. And as in years past, the HTA's global marketing partners, including the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, which handles the mainland U.S., will offer detailed presentations of their 2017 marketing plans. For a complete schedule and event pricing, visit www.hawaiitourismconference.com.