BIVB takes measures to boost tourism

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 directly.

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 Los Angeles.

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 attributes?

Applegate: The windward side of Hawaii's Big Island.

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 to grow.

Hilo is a niche market. If you want to go back in time, you go to Hilo.

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 volcano.

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 day.

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, 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

The object of 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 marketing plans?

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 visitors bureau.

"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 Island."

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.

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