Hawaii CVB eyes supplemental source markets for '08

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The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau is looking to grow business outside of Hawaii's key West Coast gateways, and there's a lot of competition, most notably from Mexico.

Cancun, the Riviera Maya and Cabo San Lucas continue to grow, taking aim at the upscale travelers who are Hawaii's preferred visitors, but doing it for less money and for less time in the air.

The thing that may work to Hawaii's advantage is the new passport requirement; Mexico and much of the Caribbean are off limits for travelers who don't have one. For a family of four, passport costs add close to $500 to the total cost of a trip.

"We've found that we have a potential market of 21.5 million people who fit our demographic profile who have never been to Hawaii," said John Monahan, president and CEO of the HVCB. "We think this offers us a lot of growth potential. And we're emphasizing Hawaii's convenience as a domestic destination, which we consider a real plus for Hawaii, especially for those who have never been here."

Adding more feeder cities with nonstop service to Hawaii is high on Monahan's wish list, although he understands the bottom-line complications that come with sky-high jet fuel costs.

What he would like most are more nonstops from markets in the Midwest, East and Southeast, not unlike the growth of once-secondary Western feeder markets such as Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; Orange County, Calif.; Oakland, Calif.; and Anchorage. All of these departure points now offer nonstop flights to Oahu and the Neighbor Islands.

"Time is money, so the longer and more complicated the routing, the harder it is to develop a market," said Jay Talwar, the HVCB's senior vice president of marketing. "Hawaii is still faring well as far as lift is concerned, but the nonstops make a big difference where more distant markets are concerned."

Airlift to Hawaii is up 44% since 2001, according to the HVCB. The increase helped push Hawaii past the 7.5 million visitor count in 2005, setting a record that was nearly matched in 2006. But 85% of that growth has been from the West Coast, which represents about 60% of Hawaii's annual arrivals.

The HVCB is also looking to Canada and Europe because of the strength of the Canadian dollar and the euro against the U.S. dollar. The billions of dollars spent upgrading hotels and other travel infrastructure provides the HVCB with a powerful marketing message.

"In today's world, it's all about keeping it new," said Monahan.

To contact reporter Allan Seiden, send e-mail to [email protected].

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