New operator chosen for Hawaii Convention Center

By Shane Nelson
InsightThe Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) ousted longtime operator and marketer of the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu, SMG Hawaii, earlier this month, signing a contract with Los Angeles-based AEG Facilities that will begin Jan. 1.

A subsidiary of the Anshultz Co., AEG Facilities manages conventions centers in Australia, Malaysia and Qatar and a range of sports arenas, including the Staples Center in Los Angeles and the American Airlines Arena in Miami.

ShaneNelson“This announcement represents the rebirth of the convention center for a new era in Hawaii,” Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the HTA, said in a statement.

SMG has managed the Hawaii Convention Center since its opening in 1998, and while McCartney praised the contractor’s accomplishments in his statement, and the facility’s total generated tax revenue has been enough to cover the cost of operations in recent years, the HTA said it “believes there is opportunity to perform at a more optimal level.”

“Personally, I’m thrilled,” said Brian Lynx, the HTA’s new vice president of meetings, conventions and incentives (MCI). “With AEG’s presence on five different continents and more than 100 venues worldwide, it will immediately help position the convention center in our key MCI markets, which include especially the Asia-Pacific region.”

The HTA created Lynx’s position earlier this year to oversee the state’s meetings marketing, strategic direction and promotion efforts, but he said the organization has been working for a couple years now to revise its approach to attracting more business travelers.

“We’ve got a two-pronged fork as far as strategy goes,” he explained. “The first one is to fill the convention center because there’s lots of opportunity for the convention center to have better utilization.”

Lynx, who has more than 20 years of Hawaii experience working primarily in the state’s hotel industry, said MCI bookings are a proven way to boost shoulder season business statewide, and convention center-related compression in Waikiki also drives direct pre- and post-meetings or incentive visits across the Islands.

Developing individual island strategies aimed at attracting meetings business and distributing it more evenly throughout the state is another of Lynx’s future goals.

“Every island has its strength,” he said. “Having just come back from the Big Island with my team, it’s evident that a strength there, for example, is science and astronomy, and now we’re asking ‘Why don’t we do more with that? Why can’t we capitalize on that segment?’”

Lynx acknowledged that overcoming the stubborn perception often associated with sand, sun and surf destinations will be a challenge, but he pointed to the successful Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leadership summit held on Oahu in 2011 as a pivotal point for Hawaii and a solid model for future MCI growth.

“For companies that have employees, constituents or associates in both North America and Asia, our location could be seen as something of a global crossroads,” he said. “And I think we’ve really got to bring that to the limelight.”
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