Big Island pursues group and incentives business

HILO -- The Big Island has been placing greater emphasis on promoting to the corporate meetings, incentive and association market.

According to Ken Johnston, Big Island Visitors Bureau executive director, efforts are paying off. Last year, 121,650 visitors came to Hawaii's largest island for meetings, a 23.3% increase over 1997. Meetings visitors accounted for 11% of westbound visitors (arriving from and via North America).

Johnston expects the year to end with a similar number of meetings arrivals, with an increase projected for 2000. "We have the capability. Many don't realize that. We have the facilities, the motorcoaches and rental cars, and Kona International Airport can handle wide-bodied charter flights." he said.

Johnston pointed out that in January last year, the island hosted its largest group ever, 4,000 people, staying at five Kohala Coast hotels for Pepsi's 100th anniversary celebration.

A list provided by BIVB features 60 groups scheduled for this year. They range from Dell and Hewlett Packard to National Farm Life and Pacific Life, from the American Heart Association and American Academy of Pediatrics to Chevron and Honda.

"We're not just a pre- and post-convention destination for Honolulu," said Johnston.

"People can fly directly to Kona," he said, noting that, except for Honolulu, Kona has the only international airport.

And, he added, Kona Airport, with its low-rise wooden buildings amid lava fields, lacks the congestion of Honolulu.

He attributed success to increased air lift, trade advertising, an aggressive public relations campaign and marketing by individual hotels and resorts. "Corporate meetings, incentives and associations are important components of our marketing and the island's continued growth," he said.

"They represent a significant mix of winter business for the Kona/Kohala coastline and add significantly to the average daily [room] rate and visitor spending."

They also help give the island an average stay of 6.99 days, leading the state, he said.

"Our goal is to brand the Big Island as a distinct meetings and incentive destination area."

In addition to advertising and meetings trade show participation, the bureau came out with its first meetings and incentives guide.

The 16-page brochure, called Hawaii's Big Island Meetings and Incentive Guide, lists 15 properties with meeting facilities and includes information on services and golf courses. Free copies are available from BIVB offices in Hilo and Kona.

Johnston said BIVB continues to solicit air charters and to promote Kona as Hawaii's second gateway.

Kona became Hawaii's second international airport after its runway was extended from 6,500 feet to 11,000 feet in 1994, allowing it to handle wide-bodied aircraft takeoffs.

In June 1996, Japan Airlines started nonstop Narita-Kona service with three flights a week and increased to daily service in November 1997. Also in June 1996, United augmented its daily San Francisco-Kona service with a daily Los Angeles-Kona flight.

Last March, Hawaiian Airlines started daily nonstop DC- 10 service between Los Angeles and Maui, continuing to Kona three days a week. In July, it increased the Kona segment to daily service.

Although Kohala, with its upmarket hotels, is the major area for meetings, Kona and Hilo also get meetings business. He noted that many conferences are held at the University of Hawaii's Hilo campus, particularly scientific ones.

Hilo is 30 minutes from Volcanoes National Park and the volcano observatory, and is headquarters for some institutions that have astronomy observatories on Mauna Kea.

The Kohala Coast's eight hotels have a total of 530,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space. Kohala has seven championship golf courses and 66 tennis courts. Activities include sailing, scuba, deep-sea fishing, sightseeing and helicopter tours.

Big Island Visitors Bureau
Phone: (808) 961-5797
Fax: (808) 961-2126.

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