Hawaii Leadership Forum 2013 Hawaii Gov. Neil AbercrombieHawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie told participants in the recent Travel Weekly Hawaii Leadership Forum that he was once in their ranks, as a waiter working his way through college.

He entertained the more than 220 attendees by recalling that "I was the world's slowest waiter at Chuck's Steak House. ... I always said I was the most careful waiter, and that's why I was the slowest, [but] I lived in fear of spilling coffee on somebody."

The governor's appearance was his first at the annual forum, now in its 17th year, which was staged last month at the Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki.

Providing an at times nostalgic look at Waikiki's earlier years of beach destination dominance, Abercrombie said the Hawaiian Islands' longtime commitment to hospitality remains a vital component to their appeal today and helped fuel the state's record-breaking visitor arrival and spending figures in 2012.

Hawaii Leadership Forum 2013 Toni Freeburg Alaska Airlines Vacations"We are very, very dedicated in Hawaii to the aloha spirit," he said. "That is not a cliche to us. It is not a marketing ploy, [and] the diversity of experiences here is embodied in the aloha spirit."

Conversation turned quickly to airlift during the forum's first panel, a moderated discussion featuring executives from Hawaii's largest tour wholesalers.

News that Alaska, Allegiant Air, Hawaiian and United all intend to reduce capacity to the Islands in coming months didn't particularly alarm most of the U.S. mainland-based operators, but Toni Freeburg, director of leisure marketing and distribution for Alaska Airlines Vacations, conceded upcoming seat cuts would affect her business.

"We saw some softness coming out of the Bay Area" in Q1, she said. "So the reductions are going to happen starting in May and then a little more in September."

Hawaii Leadership Forum 2013 Arnie Weissmann Vic KerckhoffFreeburg added that much of Alaska's scheduled 7.4% reduction in 2013 seat capacity to Hawaii was a return to late-2012 operating levels. The carrier had gone to daily service from the Bay Area, she said, and consumer demand did not match the new seat capacity.

During a later forum discussion with Travel Weekly's editor in chief, Arnie Weissmann, United Airlines' director of leisure sales, Vic Kerckhoff, said the carrier's scheduled 6.1% cut, which will include reducing its daily nonstop service between Washington's Dulles Airport and Honolulu to a once-weekly flight this fall, was motivated by several factors, including the airline's goal of a 10% return on invested capital.

"There was some aspect of [less capacity] that was seasonal," and the other part is about making a profit, he said.

Hawaii Leadership Forum 2013 Jack Richards Pleasant HolidaysJack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, seemed convinced, however, that the Aloha State will enjoy a substantial boost in airlift next year.

"Our research suggests 2014 will be a record year for U.S. airline capacity to Hawaii driven by the low-cost carriers," he said. "You have Allegiant that entered the market. You have Virgin America that has already announced service, and although Southwest hasn't formally announced service, it has [taken] delivery of airplanes that are over-water-qualified to begin service to Hawaii."

Hawaii Leadership Forum 2013 John Caldwell MLTHousing was another hot topic. With occupancy and room rates soaring on Oahu, driven in part by increased business from Asia and Oceania, many wholesalers hope to lure U.S. travelers to neighbor islands.

John Caldwell, president of MLT Vacations, said half his business is multi-island visits, "and we want to grow that." He said MLT is working to change how its clients think about trips to Hawaii.

"Let's introduce the other islands and get some advance pricing out there and get people to book earlier for the other islands," he said.
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