Emerging East Coast market key to strong 2003


HONOLULU -- The Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau (HVCB) anticipates a strong recovery in 2003 and projects continued demand for a product that is "more relevant than ever," according to David Preece, vice president for North America.

"Based on our research, economic projections and feedback from our wholesalers, we see a strong picture emerging for the coming year," Preece said.

"We're getting smarter and more aggressive about how we promote Hawaii, and the experience our destination offers is more relevant now than it was before 9/11," he said.

Preece cited safety as an "important underlying factor" in the decision to buy a Hawaii vacation in the aftermath of Sept. 11, but added, "We have never used the words 'safe' or 'safety' in our marketing because travel agents and consumers already know that about Hawaii."

Preece said the HVCB will continue to mine the eastern U.S. as a "developing market" in the coming year, despite the serious impact seen on travel from the East Coast in the last year.

The HVCB has not decreased spending in the western U.S., its top visitor market, but incremental increases in the bureau's budget will be dedicated to boosting arrivals from major eastern areas in 2003, he said.

"Roughly $13 million will go into marketing the eastern U.S.," Preece said.

In the coming year, the HVCB will work with major airlines to develop additional nonstop service from the East Coast.

"We're trying to work with airlines to raise the quality and quantity of service, specifically with respect to nonstop markets, and as the market continues to strengthen, I know major carriers are looking at Eastern expansion," Preece said.

Demand for and yield to Hawaii are strong relative to other routes, he said, and because airlines are looking for profitable markets in which

to redeploy now-furloughed equipment, Hawaii is a likely candidate for more service in the near future.

The HVCB has had general discussions with most of the major carriers, he said, including American, Continental, Delta and United, as well as the Hawaiian carriers.

Preece emphasized that the state of Hawaii does not subsidize air service to the islands, unlike many other destinations.

For consumers, the HVCB will offer a "full complement" of brand-focused consumer marketing programs in the coming year, "with a strong call to action," he said.

The 2003 media buy will include advertising in TV and consumer magazines and a heavier investment in online marketing through major travel portals with an emphasis on niche marketing.

The bureau will spend about $500,000 in online programs in 2003, about a 50% increase from 2002, Preece said.

Sites targeted for advertising include TheKnot.com (for weddings), several National Geographic sites, PGAtour.com (for golfers) and familyfun.com, he said.

The HVCB's Web site, at www.gohawaii.com, receives 250,000 to 300,000 unique visitors per month, Preece said, and the bureau continues to pass along sales leads to HVCB-certified retailers, matching them to consumers by ZIP code on a rotating basis.

"Feedback from our agent-referral program is very positive," he said, adding that research showed that 58% of all consumers who requested materials from the site visited Hawaii within 12 months of their inquiry.

The HVCB will expand its Ke Kula O Hawaii (School of Hawaii) agent education program in 2003, Preece said, by launching an advanced certification course for graduates of its entry-level course.

Retailers can become certified in one or more of the six islands. Preece called the advanced courses "a good, logical extension of what we're doing now" in the original two-part program.

"This is serious education, not a fam trip, although the programs do include a fam trip element," he said.

The course of study will include visits to key areas, resorts, attractions and activities and off-the-beaten-path destinations.

In 2002, the HVCB launched a self-study version of the specialist course to extend the reach of the program, and in the coming year the bureau will continue to provide training for affinity groups as well as major wholesalers like Classic Custom Vacations and Vacation.com.

As for the upcoming ASTA World Travel Congress, Preece said the HVCB's efforts to attract front-line agents to the November meeting include incentive programs and discount vouchers off future bookings.

Perks await agents at ASTA congress

SAN FRANCISCO -- ASTA and the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau (HVCB) are working to attract front-line agents to the Society's World Travel Congress in Honolulu in November by offering extra earnings and creating value-added coupons.

Brigid McDonnell, the HVCB's director, North America, for travel trade marketing, said the effort to attract front-liners is simple: "The more agents know ... the easier it is for them to sell Hawaii."

Agents who participate in Hawaii-specific seminars, such as the HVCB's Ke Kula O Hawaii (School of Hawaii) agent education program, while attending the congress will receive a $25 bonus commission coupon per session, up to a total of $250 in bonus commissions, from participating wholesalers and tour operators.

The coupons will be valid on bookings to Hawaii with a minimum four-night stay and must be booked by June 30 for travel by Dec. 31, 2003.

Retailers also can obtain value-added discount coupons from attractions and activities throughout the state.

The discounts will be provided by up to 30 companies, McDonnell said, and can be used for clients' future travel.

For more information, visit www.astanet.com. -- K.O.

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