eorge Applegate, executive
director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau, talked with Travel
Weekly associate editor Paul Felt about the Big Island's outlook
for the future as well as its attributes and market appeal.
Travel Weekly:What's the outlook for
mainland tourism next year and beyond?
Applegate: We're optimistic that travel from
the eastern U.S. will improve and overall numbers will rebound.
TWWhat's holding back a rebound from the
East Coast market?
Applegate: I think it will take more direct
flights, convenience and promotion.
Convenience is important today. The more inconvenience people go
through, the more they decide not to go. People want to get here
About two-and-a-half years ago, all we had were two direct
flights to the mainland U.S.: United flights from San Francisco and
Now we have six daily flights from the mainland, and one weekly
[Saturday] United flight from Denver is starting on Dec. 14.
[People] are taking more frequent, shorter vacations. So the
more direct flights we get, the better.
TWWhat part of the Big Island do you feel
merits more attention than it has received, given its
Applegate: The windward side of Hawaii's Big
Hilo transports visitors back to the days of old Hawaii. It is
the gateway to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and is the home of
the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival.
TWDoes Hilo receive its fair share of
overnight tourists, in your opinion?
Applegate: This might surprise people, but Hilo
welcomed over 380,000 visitors last year [equivalent to 29% of the
island's 1.3 million overnight guests]. These numbers will continue
Hilo is a niche market. If you want to go back in time, you go
It's not a resort area, but that's OK. People like to come to
Hilo to mingle with the locals. It's different.
We have only 1,100 or 1,200 rooms in Hilo.
There's going to be a 60-room hotel built on the route to the
TWWhat are agents really selling when they
sell the Big Island?
Applegate: As the world changes, people cling
to traditional things that they feel comfortable and solid with.
The nice thing about Hawaii is, we live with the aloha spirit every
Instead of selling beaches and palm trees, we focus on the
things that represent us truly: our culture, our heritage, our
values, which are also American values.
Our motto is, 'Live Aloha.' I think people are looking for that,
and they come here.
TWHow did the Big Island Visitors Bureau
respond after Sept. 11?
Applegate: We put together a 45-day plan, with
sales blitzes, travel agent functions and media calls targeting the
West Coast and the Midwest, where our major markets are.
Visitors are also looking for value-added deals and specials as
a lure to travel.
We answered that with the launch of a Web site at www.hawaiispecials.com, where a slew of Big Island
travel deals are found.
All our members can list their specials on it.
TWIs there an agent section on
Applegate: We're in the process of creating an
agent section on our Web site www.bigisland.org.
The object of HawaiiSpecials.com is not to cut out agents but to
inform people of available specials, and we advise users to see
their travel agents.
TWHow do agents figure into the bureau's
Applegate: We developed an on-island travel
agent certification program [to debut at the ASTA congress]
designed to equip agents with in-depth knowledge of the destination
that will help answer clients' questions and assist agents with
closing the sale.
Day-trippers flowing in
HILO -- The No. 1 visitor attraction in the state, Hawaii
Volcanoes National Park, receives 2.6 million visitors each year,
according to George Applegate, executive director of the Big Island
Visitors Bureau here.
Although the Kilauea volcano is a hit, getting more spectators
to spend money and stay the night locally is a challenge for the
"The problem we have with the volcano is that most people come
for the day and go to the crater rim but don't get to see the lava
flow in the evening," Applegate said.
"It's like going to Yellowstone and missing Old Faithful. The
lava flows really need to be seen at night."
Volcano visitors in the know, Applegate said, stay in nearby
Hilo for a few nights, after some rest and relaxation at the ritzy
resorts on the leeward side of the island.
"We need to get tourists to understand that it's a big island,
and you can stay in a nearby hotel," he said.
The atmosphere at the lava flows is a pleasant mix of tourists
and locals, young and old, he said.
"It's great for families. Everybody's fascinated, because they
all see something different.
"It's kind of like astronomy, which is also big here on the Big
The lava started flowing Jan. 3, 1983, Applegate said, and the
volcano has been spewing 650,000 cubic meters of lava every day
since, with no sign of letting up.
In the last 20 years, lave from Kilauea has added 800 to 900
acres to the Big Island, Applegate said.
There is a $10 admission charge per carload, which covers
admittance to the park for an entire week. -- P.F.