Hawaii CVB: It's not all in the family


HONOLULU -- Hawaii travel sellers and suppliers should concentrate on marketing to singles and couples and not waste their time on families, according to research presented to members of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.

"Clearly, having children in the household doesn't help in the potential visit to Hawaii," said Bill Siegel, president of Longwoods International in Toronto.

Siegel made the comments to HVCB members while presenting findings from a telephone survey of 2,798 households across the U.S.

The survey placed particular emphasis on households in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; Seattle; Denver; New York; Boston; Chicago; Dallas, and Minneapolis.

In graphs entitled "Ever Visited Hawaii" and "Visited Hawaii in Past Two Years," younger singles and couples, older singles and couples and retirees scored much higher than younger and older families.

In the group of people surveyed who had visited Hawaii in the last two years, Siegel said "younger singles and couples on the West Coast are the important market; younger families [nationwide] dropped off the face of the earth."

Families scored the lowest in graphs that gauged whether the respondents had traveled more than 2,000 miles from home in the past five years and whether they had traveled by air and were away more than five days in the past five years.

"Clearly there are some problems in terms of having kids," he said.

Overall, Siegel said the biggest barriers to traveling to Hawaii are the distance, the time it takes to get here, cost and the presence of children in the home.

Families on the West Coast are more likely to take a trip to Hawaii than those in other parts of the country because the distance and cost are less.

"The real potential for families is on the West Coast," Siegel said. "But don't waste your dollars on younger families outside the West Coast. Simply traveling on long-haul trips is something families do a lot less of."

Hoteliers and tour operators, which spent plenty of time and money marketing kids' programs this summer, said they have good reason to continue marketing to families, despite Siegel's research.

David Carey, president of Outrigger Hotels and Resorts, said he looked over the survey results and found that he agreed that some families just can't afford a Hawaii vacation, but added "we're certainly not going to walk away from the family market."

"Our Ohana brand and our condominiums are both family- friendly," said Carey.

Like many other hotels in Hawaii, Outrigger is offering an activity-based kids' program through August. Outrigger's program is called Cowabunga Kids Club and is offered at the Outrigger Reef on the Beach in Waikiki (with guests at other Waikiki Outriggers invited to participate), the Outrigger Waikoloa Beach on the Big Island and the Kiahuna Plantation on Kauai.

Carey said there is a family market that can afford a Hawaii vacation, and the parents are found in the baby- boomer generation.

Aside from the high price of a Hawaiian vacation for four or five people, Carey said Hawaii suffers from a lack of activities that families can enjoy together.

For those selling travel to families "there is opportunity, but the perception is that there is not enough stuff to do here," said Carey. "We are activity- short."

George Thompson, director of sales and marketing for Runaway Tours in San Francisco, said his company recently re-launched its Kids Need Vacations Too! program in response to travel agent demand.

But he also said Siegel "hits the nail on the head about marketing to families on the West Coast."

"We have seen the majority of our family business come from the West Coast and that's where we market to families," said Thompson.

Runaway's kids' program offers a six-day vacation with hotel and Jeep Cherokee rental and is priced per family.

Runaway's hotel partners in Hawaii -- Hilton, Aston, Sheraton and even the upscale Ritz- Carlton -- "have been fantastic in working with us on our family packages, giving free stays to children under 18," said Thompson.

Aston Hotels & Resorts, which recently started a kids' program called Kids Connection at 15 of its Oahu condominium resorts and hotels that will run through Aug. 31, sees families as a staple source of customers.

"We have a little advantage over the other hotel companies in the family area because most of our properties are condominiums," said Loren Shim, assistant vice president of sales administration for Aston.

Shim said 25 of 37 of the Aston properties in Hawaii are condominium resorts.

"So much of our business is families because they come in and stay at our condos, and they can put three, four, five people in one condo for the same price," said Shim. "At our condos you are not subject to a per person rate. And at all of our properties, kids under 17 stay free, so that's why we think the family market works for us."

According to Siegel, families with older kids are more likely to take a vacation to Hawaii than those who are younger and just starting out in family life.

"If you are targeting families, you will have more luck with school-age kids rather than families with toddlers," said Siegel.

"Here's the real world scenario: A couple with kids says, 'Why don't we go to Hawaii?', so the wife calls the travel agent and says, 'We're going to Hawaii.'

"Then the cost starts to rise, and so the travel agent says, 'We got this great package to Mexico,' so you end up with a lot of last-minute de-selling to Hawaii.

"People end up going to Mexico because it's cheaper, even though they are concerned about getting hassled and getting sick. But the truth is, there are a lot of cheap packages to Mexico."

According to his survey, Siegel said when it comes to booking a trip to Hawaii, older singles and couples are the most likely to use a travel agent. Older singles and couples are defined as singles age 35 to 65 or couples over 45 with no children at home.

The next most likely group to use an agent to book a trip to Hawaii is retirees, followed by younger singles, with couples with families coming in last.

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