Looking to appraise the ever-changing
state of tourism in the Aloha State, Travel Weekly recently invited
executives from airlines, hotels and tour operators to gather with
their colleagues from government tourism organizations for a
roundtable at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa in Honolulu
to discuss travel and tourism to and among the Islands.
Travel Weekly Destinations Editor Kenneth Kiesnoski, roundtable
participants tackled hot topics such as sustainable growth,
affordability, competitiveness and community involvement.
(Editors note: The original transcript has
been edited for length and flow.)
Kiesnoski:Whats the state of Hawaiian
tourism today, more than four years after the 9/11
Johnson, president and CEO, Hawaii Tourism Authority: Weve
had a record year. We think it will end up at around 7.4 million
visitors, which is pretty much all we can take here in
So weve had a
fantastic year, as good as we can have, with improvement in all our
major market areas. For this year, were looking at about a 2%
Tatum, general manager, JW Marriott Ihilani Resort and
Spa: The real strength last year was that group and
incentives business came back, which is important for a resort like
ours. [Meetings planners] cant believe what we have ... throughout
Hawaii: the tremendous facilities ... the cleanliness and the
security. This year is going to beat 2005, so theres nothing but
positive indications right now.
Solomon, senior vice president, sales and marketing,
Outrigger/Ohana Hotels and Resorts: Its been really
gratifying from a business results [perspective], especially
because were rebuilding and reinventing the destination ... in
Waikiki. Were delivering a much better experience to visitors
today. While its nice to have the money in the bank from good
operating results, the real equity were building is with our
customer base. Hawaii has been a really strategic destination. With
the changes in the economy and real estate market, theres been
investment in every part of this state. Weve bought and sold
properties, as have other companies, and every new investor without
exception has invested more in improving the product and the
experience. Thats a fundamental source of our optimism for
Kiesnoski:Is Hawaii insulated from
market fluctuations somewhat because its a dream destination of a
lifetime, like Italy? Do travelers come to Hawaii no matter what?
Wienert, tourism liaison, Hawaii Department of Business, Economic
Development and Tourism: We feel Hawaiis got even more of
a grip or hold on the public imagination than Italy because of not
only its exotic appeal but also because its a part of the U.S.
Talwar, vice president of marketing, Hawaii Visitors and Convention
Bureau: Hawaii is a great product to have, with high
product satisfaction, demand, awareness and desire.
So its really a
matter of looking at maintaining those [positives], moving that
[travel] intent to conversion and working with the trade to ensure
were providing the right tools so they can convert the right
really closely with researchers at looking at who the appropriate
targets are for the product we have. The great thing we have is
that this destination is six islands. Each of the islands offers
unique experiences and character ... but there are also a lot of
Nulty, senior vice president of marketing, Aloha Airlines:
This is a prime destination for all airlines. Its the place
everyone wants to use their frequent-flyer miles, its the place
people dream of coming to, and we get a lot of return
Kiesnoski:Is your job about
solidifying the captive market that intends to visit Hawaii or is
it about vying against competing destinations for new tourist
dollars? Im thinking of Punta Mita, just north of Puerto Vallarta,
Mexico. Trade types there talk about it as an alternative to
Hawaii, offering the same climate but a more exotic culture -- and
much cheaper prices.
Nulty: Its still Mexico. Yes, there may be
less expensive destinations, but theyre not part of the U.S., and
they cant give you the same environment we can give you
Talwar: Once people experience Hawaii,
they notice the difference. We have one thing [competitors] dont:
the people of Hawaii. Our challenge as a marketing agency is how to
communicate that in a magazine article or television spot. But once
people come here, they get it.
Kiesnoski:Are more people abandoning
Waikiki and deciding to visit other parts of Oahu and the other
islands instead? Is interisland traffic growing? Are multi-island
Nulty: Some visitors have been here
several times, have their favorite place and know where they want
to go. They generally fly directly there.
interisland market still exists for tourists and visitors do like
flying from island to island. Some want to stay on each island, or
just one, while others just want to visit for a day.
Kiesnoski:Is there a typical Hawaiian
stay? And has the typical vacation here, or the typical visitor,
changed in any way?
Nulty: In the past, every passenger
connected in Honolulu to get to the neighbor islands but it just
isnt necessary any longer. All of us in the airline industry now
target our transpacific flights into places where the hotel rooms
are. We still get people doing multi-island trips but not as much
as we used to. We get more repeat visitors each year, and once they
decide on where they want to stay they stick to it.
Johnson: Ive got to point out that Oahu
had a fantastic year in 2005, one of the best in a long time. So
obviously the monies the Marriotts and Outriggers are putting into
the revitalization of Oahu is paying off. Hotel occupancies on Oahu
are above those on all the other islands this year.
Aluli, director, Hawaii, Mark Travel Corp.: Sometimes the
airport process can be daunting and that may discourage people from
traveling interisland to the degree that they used to.
Kiesnoski:How much tourism can Hawaii
take? Will you have to cap growth and concentrate on increasing
Johnson: Obviously the strategy is a
larger spend for visitors. That doesnt necessarily mean we only
want the rich and famous. It means we want people who will come and
enjoy all the things we have. How much is too much? We have to be
very careful. If were going to sell a higher-end product, then we
must keep it in great shape.
We are having
discussions about sustainable tourism. And we have to be very
careful that the whole Hawaiian community is involved with tourism.
But we dont expect to receive a tremendous amount of growth in the
Wienert: Our cruise industry has increased
dramatically over the past few years and will increase again in
If you look at
the visitor numbers for last year, you can attribute 300,000 to our
cruise visitors. At the end of 2006, well have had -- in addition
to what growth we would have had anyway -- at least 400,000
additional arrivals because of cruise.
Nulty: Our challenge as an airline is to
attract customers to come here when its not peak season. All of us
are using the Internet a lot to attract people -- or company
meetings and conferences -- with special pricing when they might
not be thinking about us.
Kiesnoski:You mentioned the Web. Has
Hawaii kept in step with other destinations in seeing a lot of
business move direct and online and away from traditional travel
Solomon: Both consumers and travel agents
are going online for information. We regularly survey our travel
agents and, interestingly, they say they prefer to receive
information online. Our partners on the distribution side, such as
Mark Travel, tell us that more and more of their own agent business
is coming online.
going to choose to transact however they want. We have to be out
there in front of them with options and content. Were all
distributed by agents, and since the values in the content, its all
about keeping agents a little better informed than their clients
Nulty: Having run Navigant, one of the
biggest agencies in the world, for 10 years, I can tell you Im a
firm believer in the value of travel agents.
part is that smart agents are using all tools at their disposal,
including tools designed to bring consumers direct. They use them
to go out and sell to customers. If theyre just order-takers,
theyre likely not in business anymore.
Kiesnoski:In terms of product and
experience, is Hawaii reacting or creating? Im thinking of the
proliferation of spas at many Caribbean resorts. Are your companies
leading the way or just keeping pace?
Wienert: All of the above! If you want to
talk about the Caribbean trying to gain recognition as a spa
destination, theyre behind the times. We went there many years ago,
and I doubt it there is a property in all of Hawaii, especially
luxury or upscale, that doesnt have a spa or hasnt had one for a
very long time.
Talwar: I think all destinations do the
same research and go after the same clients, so we share a lot of
trends. But Hawaii has done a lot of introspection.
One of the big
reasons we hold a [leading] position is our people. Were looking at
how to manage the destination and protect its allure, and that goes
right to the people of Hawaii. Thats become top of mind with
Kiesnoski:Many people come to Hawaii
to experience traditions such as luaus and hula, but encounter
packaged, mass-market product. How much of authentic, historic
Hawaii is left to sell?
Solomon: Consumers are changing, and
people are more open to new experiences. Every one of us defines
whats an authentic cultural experience differently. In Hawaii, we
have a very multicultural environment. Its not something easy to
advertise or something we sell in particular.
But people who
have been here more than once understand Hawaii is ethnic-food
heaven, whether its because the sushi tastes better or theyve found
an exotic dish -- such as malasadas, or Portuguese doughnuts --
that theyve never seen before.
authentic Hawaii is not necessarily about going up some lonely
trail and being invited into a thatched hut for dinner. There are
so many different ways to experience what we have here. Thats what
makes Hawaii magical.
Nulty: Aloha gets a lot of letters,
particularly about our flight attendants, who are for the most part
native Hawaiians. Travelers are so impressed with Hawaiians service
culture. I see the same incredible service in Hawaiis hotels and
restaurants from local people who absolutely love being involved
Tatum: Another thing that makes Hawaii
unique is that weve got people who worked in our hotels for years
who stay and make the hotels their homes. At the Waikiki Beach
Marriott, 50% have been here more than 10 years. Thats
Johnson: When you boil it all down, its
not about sticks and bricks, but about the Hawaiian people. And the
community needs to be a part of this industry.
Aluli: Over the last few years, local
people have found a way to become engaged by creating their own
Theres been a
plethora of new things to do that are small and not as
commercialized as, for example, some of the [resort] luaus. They
really put visitors in touch with locals.
Kiesnoski:Whats the relationship
between the ethnic Hawaiian population and the tourism industry?
Have the Hawaiians benefitted from this tourism
Johnson: No, I dont believe the host
community has benefitted to the same extent as many other groups
that have come here. Its one of the things that needs to be put
more in balance.
Wienert: There are so many new
opportunities for Hawaiian people to get involved with the
Its a lot
different than how it was years ago. There is now a concerted
effort industrywide to reach out [to the host community] and talk
about these new opportunities.
Johnson: And if we dont do something like
that, well lose the essence of Hawaii. There is no other place that
has aloha. If you dont involve them, how can you sell Hawaii? You
really cant. They have to be involved.
Talwar: The state has put together a
strategic plan, and one of the key points is this very subject. Its
something the state is taking a leadership role on.
Aluli: One area where the state has done
an excellent job is supporting festivals, venues where a lot of
locals are represented.
Kiesnoski:Whats the greatest
challenge or opportunity facing the tourism industry
Solomon: About 70% of our visitors are
repeat. At that level of repeat business, you have to think about
where your next generation of consumers is going to come from. We
have to keep the product fresh and talk about whats coming down the
road to new and different markets. Thats our biggest strategic
challenge: awareness and connecting with new markets.
Tatum: We need make sure that with all the
business coming in, we dont forget to invest more money to keep
more business coming and to keep perception of the Hawaii brand at
the level we want, and not just in the luxury category.
One of our
strengths is that even our midlevel and lower-priced tiers are
Kiesnoski:Is a Hawaii vacation still
an achievable and affordable dream?
Johnson: There is a luxury component to
the Hawaii product, but we have a whole range. I was in
Philadelphia last week, and I couldnt believe what I was paying for
a hotel room.
Nulty: With no beach!
Wienert: Theres opportunity for every
pocketbook. Were very value-oriented.
Talwar: Its all about experiences anyway.
Visitors want to go home and talk about boogie-boarding with locals
at Waikiki. You can do that at all different price
Aluli: Another challenge is
infrastructure. Tourism product may be beautiful, but in the long
term, roads, water supplies and those sorts of things are what we
should pay attention to.
Wienert: The state strategic plan for
tourism identified a lot of critical issues, and infrastructure was
a very large part of that.
Johnson: Visitors are only 10% of Oahus
population. Its not the tourists who are going to goof up the local
Aluli: Its the legislature!
Wienert: On Maui and Kauai, the ratio of
visitors to residents is very high, around 1-to-3. Each island
faces different challenges, whether it be infrastructure or
Johnson: Honolulu is a growing
metropolitan center. From a resource standpoint, are we looking at
hurting for water? No.
A little less
traffic would be nice, but the issue is not visitor
Wienert: Traffic is a concern, but when
you look at car registrations, we really havent increased rental
cars. But resident vehicle ownership is up dramatically.