Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie offered a passionate rebuff to critics during his opening address at the National Conference on Public Employment Retirement Systems in Waikiki last week, refuting the boondoggle label used by a vocal group of detractors to describe this year’s event on Oahu.
An annual event for administrators who manage nearly $3 trillion in public sector pension funds, the conference hosted some 1,000 attendees during its 2012 event held in New York, but only about 600 people traveled to this year’s conference in Waikiki, according to the meeting’s executive director, Hank Kim. A number of state and city government officials back on the mainland as well as some media outlets criticized the choice of venue because of its distance from the continental U.S.
“Those who aren’t here are missing out, because this state is doing things right,” Abercrombie said during his remarks at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, referring to his own recent work to reform Hawaii’s public pension system.
“This is serious business,” he added. “And Hawaii is a place where serious business is being done, has been done and will be done. I can assure you of that.”
Describing the Hawaiian Islands as not only “the westernmost outpost” of the U.S. but also as “an anchor of the Asia-Pacific region,” Abercrombie argued that the destination’s diversity and location made it an ideal place to conduct business in an increasingly globalized world.
“Hawaii’s beautiful scenery and weather may blind some to the fact that we are home to a thriving, sophisticated and contemporary government and business community,” he said. “Hawaii stands on its own merits as a premier location to host meetings and conventions, [and planners] know their events will be invigorating while allowing attendees to relax, think clearly, collaborate and, most importantly, fulfill their business objectives.”
Conference officials, who also held their 2007 annual meeting in Hawaii, said the cost of lodging at the Hilton Hawaiian Village was 44% less than the price paid for accommodations during the group’s 2012 event in New York and estimated that “attending this year’s meeting will cost 30% less than last year’s meeting.”
Impacted dramatically by the AIG effect, or the drop in meetings, conventions and incentives (MCI) business, during the recent economic downturn, Hawaii’s successful hosting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders Meeting in the fall of 2011, which included President Obama and many other heads of state along with 20,000 delegates from 21 nations, has since been touted by Aloha State tourism officials as a glowing validation of the destination’s legitimacy for business-related travel.
And in January, the Hawaii Visitors and Conventions Bureau, the state’s North American marketing organization, merged its meetings sales team with the Hawaii Convention Center to form the Meet Hawaii initiative, a coordinated effort to increase MCI business to the Aloha State from the mainland U.S.
State officials have also launched a MeetHawaii.com website, hoping to make it easier for MCI planners to gather data about Hawaii’s meetings industry and contact local suppliers while also providing online sales tools.
Year to date through March, MCI business in Hawaii was up 9.4% from the same period in 2012, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority figures.