VacationPIX posts clients' sojourn online


WAIKIKI -- If you are sitting by the pool at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel, you might notice a kiosk that looks oddly familiar, a reminder perhaps of the days when you could hop into a photo booth and get your picture taken.

You wouldn't be too far off.

What you are in fact looking at does turn out photos -- an online album, even -- that will enable you to share your vacation with those back home.

Michael Willits, founder and operator of VacationPIX, rents underwater digital cameras to hotel guests at a cost of $30 for 24 hours. Included in that price is a memory card that can hold up to 120 images.

When the guest returns the camera to the kiosk, Willits downloads the images onto a CD and creates an online album accessible by friends and family anywhere in the world.

"A lot of people are hesitant about digital technology," said VacationPIX business manager Frank Waters, who has been with the company since it began operations last August.

"But we take care of the downloading process and all the technology, so all that is left is for you to share your images with family and friends."

He will also put the album on the company's Web site.

Willits advertises his services on the Pleasant Hawaiian Vacations and Aston Waikiki Web sites, and he is in the process of putting up a banner on the Oahu Visitors Bureau site.

His plans do not cease there, however. Willits wants to set up kiosks in other Waikiki hotels as well as at Hanauma Bay, the famed snorkeling spot.

But Willits and his clients aren't the only ones who benefit from the operation. Each family album he posts on the Web receives an average of eight unique visitors, "which is great for tourism on the entire island," he said.

"When your friends see a photo of your child learning to surf, they want their children to have the opportunity, as well," he said. "They will look into booking a Hawaii vacation. It's a win for everybody."

VacationPIX has an agreement with Minolta and uses its Dimage XT cameras, complete with zoom, flash and other options. Many people take the camera out of the underwater casing after the sun goes down and snap photos all evening long, according to Willits.

Next on the agenda, VacationPIX is speaking with tour operators and travel agencies about alerting their clientele to the product.

"If word of mouth is your best reference, and a picture is worth a thousand words, then what is the combined value of a picture?" Willits asked. "We are going to push the envelope and see. I have a feeling the possibilities are endless."

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