In an era of dynamic, 360-degree video, location-specific services, high-definition smartphones and consumer demand for instant information, the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) website was short on visuals, unintuitive and decidedly antiquated. It was MySpace in a Facebook world.
"All you had to do was go and look at it," said Leslie Dance, HTA vice president of marketing and product development. "On the homepage there were 27 choice points of where to go, it was crazy. There were Band-Aids on top of Band-Aids to keep the site up to date."
So when the HTA embarked on a redesign of GoHawaii.com this year, Dance and the team knew they had to wipe the slate clean and take a fresh look at what travelers want now and what they will seek in the future. The site had not been redesigned in at least seven years.
"It was not mobile first, and that's where you have to be these days," she said. "Technology changes at the speed of lightning, and we tried to make it as future-proof as you can and stay ahead of the curve. Of course, things will keep changing, and we'll adapt and upgrade as we go."
GoHawaii.com is using video much more extensively, including sweeping aerials and slick, well-produced scenes of beach goers, surfers, hikers, foodies and more. Each island has a dedicated page that kicks off with a specific video accompanied by the recording of a different Hawaiian chant, and the HTA coordinated closely with a cultural adviser to provide translations, choose appropriate content and guarantee accuracy.
While the old site was not integrated with social media, the new homepage features a grid of squares that is constantly updating with Hawaii-tagged content, such as Instagram photos.
"The site redesign meshes with our strategic vision of reaching global travelers through technology," Dance said. "Traditional advertising is not as effective. The travelers of tomorrow, aka millennials, don't like being advertised to."
The site is language versatile. The English version launched in August, and the Japanese site debuted in late September. Before the end of the year HTA plans to have Chinese, Korean, German, Spanish and French sites all up and running. It is also adaptive, learning about user preferences and catering information to their traveler type.
"It tracks how people navigate the site, and then the next time they visit they get more personalized content," Dance said. "People who have never been to Hawaii before navigate differently than people who've been before. The software we are working with identifies different travel types or personas, based on what people are searching for and other data."
Moving forward, Dance and the HTA are exploring how they can further use virtual reality in their promotions, and the Hawaii Tourism USA team is involved in a mobile media campaign focused on the East Coast, particularly first-time visitors.
In 2016, the HTA unveiled its first virtual reality (VR) tours, titled "Let Hawaii Happen," which highlighted a different host and experience on each island.
The agency also experimented with Expedia on a facial recognition technology where users who opted in were recorded while they watched Hawaii tourism videos with a variety of experiences. Depending on their facial expressions and reactions, the program would generate a suggested itinerary.
The HTA is not alone in adapting to a shift in how travelers are seeking information and making decisions. Research from Expedia and Egencia, published in a 2013 report titled "The Future of Travel," indicates millennials are planning and booking travel using their smartphones more than any other group. They also use their mobile devices for aid, research and guidance while traveling.
The Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort.
"For millennials, service doesn't mean having someone else help you as much as having something help you," the report stated. "For this generation, technology, particularly mobile, is their personal assistant, enabling them to stay in touch, ensuring they remember their meetings or friends' birthdays, telling them when to be where and how to get there."
Virtual reality, podcasts and more
Properties, too, are expanding their marketing reach with innovative new uses of technology, including video, virtual reality and podcasts, to better highlight their unique and signature offerings to guests around the world.
The Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort has introduced a couple of new technological features to both promote the resort and help guests navigate the bustling Honolulu neighborhood once in town. The virtual reality tours launched in early 2016.
"This is a large resort, and we have a lot of things to offer; the VR tours are a great way to showcase all the different aspects of the hotel, pools, restaurants and give a true view of what people would see at the hotel," said Tiffany King, director of advertising for the Hilton Hawaiian Village. "With our location right on the beach, we wanted to show off the positioning of the property, the beautiful surroundings, and it's a good way for us to show all our different guestrooms."
The Hilton Hawaiian Village comprises five towers, all with different style and decor, and the tour lets potential guests see everything from the artwork on the walls to what their view would be.
While not targeting any certain generation of travelers, King said they did have a type of visitor in mind.
"We did not specifically look at age range, but we did it more for the leisure guest as opposed to groups or associations," she said.
The technology has uses on the ground, as well, as King said she often sees hotel staff using the video tours to explain directions and amenities to guests.
"We're always looking for the newest technology, but of course things are changing so quickly," King said. "We really try to take a look at everything out there and then adopt things that make sense for the hotel."
For travelers who want every aspect of their journey to be mobile-friendly, this year Hilton Hawaiian Village introduced a digital entry system where guests can download their key to their smartphone and go directly to their room upon arrival. Another project in the works is an upgrade of the resort map on the website. They plan to make the map more interactive, with VR videos built into the experience in an easy-to-access manner.
"We find that a lot of guests don't realize everything they have available to them right here on the property, and we want to get that information in front of them in a fun way," King said.
Hilton also just unveiled a feature within its Hilton Honors mobile application. FunFinder, a guide with personalized recommendations, resort tips and inside information on special offers, is currently set up only at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki and Hilton Anatole.
FunFinder can send alerts about happy hour times and deals; notify users of fitness classes, tours and other activities; and be used to book dinner or spa reservations. It includes features for first-time guests to get acquainted, such as a walking tour. For families, the app includes schedules for children's activities, details on kid's discounts and a guide to the resort's day camp.
FunFinder offers recommendations based on arrival and departure times, established personal preferences, attraction hours and the individual's current location. Resort staff can also send messages to guests to notify them of an experience they may enjoy or other information.
The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel recently launched a program that eschewed VR for another media form growing in popularity. It is producing a series of informative podcasts to better feature their well-known Asian and Pacific Rim art collection and educate both potential visitors and guests on the works.
A granite Buddha in the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s art collection.
The collection features about 1,000 pieces, including a 5-foot-tall seventh century pink granite Buddha sitting beneath a Bodhi tree and a selection of Hawaiian kapas, or quilts. It was put together over decades by the property's developer, Laurance S. Rockefeller.
"We did this in part to bring more attention to the collection, which is so special and unique," said Mauna Kea public relations director Vicky Kometani.
"At Mauna Kea none of the art is replicas, it's all from the original country of origin. We felt a responsibility to share this with more people than just our guests who are fortunate enough to stay here. We asked: How do you do that in today's world? And, podcasts entered the conversation. Now, someone in Chicago or
Oshkosh can listen to the podcast and get a sense of what we do here."
Currently there is only one guided tour of the collection each week, and the hotel eventually plans to have iPod Touch devices that guests will be able to check out to explore the collection at their convenience while listening to the podcasts.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is progressing with its new initiative, having published four of a planned half-dozen podcasts, while both the Hilton Hawaiian Village and HTA report increased usage of their apps and sites thanks to their new technological innovations.
"Engagement numbers are up, traffic is up," Dance said. "We are getting 402,000 visitors to the site every month, and new visitors are 18% of that. People are spending more time on the site once they get there than they have before."