Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

Any time you have nine Hawaii tourism industry executives and stakeholders all seated together at the same table, you’re likely to have a lively discussion. That was most certainly true last month at Travel Weekly’s annual Hawaii Roundtable, held at the Waikiki Sheraton.

The at-times feisty, on-the-record conversation lasted more than 90 minutes, producing a complete transcript of more than 17,000 words. And just like every year I’ve been asked to edit those entertaining although lengthy transcripts, a great deal of terrific commentary ends up on the cutting-room floor.

This year’s roundtable featured a spirited exchange about airlift to the Hawaiian Islands, much of which we weren’t able to fit into print. For example, Peter Ingram, Hawaiian Airlines’ chief commercial officer and executive vice president, offered some thoughtful insight about the trend of nonstop flights connecting the U.S. mainland directly with the neighbor islands and a number of new aircraft his company will add to its fleet in 2017.

“Next year we’re going to have an evolution of our network coming with the introduction of the [Airbus] A321neo aircraft, which is going to give us a smaller aircraft that will allow us to open up more of those direct-into-Maui markets,” Ingram said, commenting on Hawaiian’s growing hub at the Kahului Airport on the Valley Isle.  

“We’ll have connections out of Maui into the Big Island and into Kauai, and also some direct to Big Island and Kauai markets off the West Coast,” he added. “The last couple years we’ve had a seasonal flight from Los Angeles to Lihue, and we have extended that through the winter this year. We’re very positive about how that’s going, and we’d like more markets like that, routes like that, to be a part of our overall network.”

Ingram noted that historically, Hawaiian Airlines planes have been larger, wide-body aircraft, pushing the carrier toward a more Honolulu-oriented network. But he indicated that the smaller, more fuel-efficient A321neos will allow Hawaiian more flexibility in terms of the U.S. mainland markets the carrier can serve moving forward and where those planes will fly nonstop in the Islands.

Meanwhile, Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays, also signaled important changes ahead for airlift between the U.S. mainland and the Hawaiian Islands.

“We see the air dynamic changing over the next two to three years,” he said. “There are two carriers that are ready to come in here, [and] they’re ETOPS [extended operations] certified. They’re ready to go: Southwest and JetBlue. Southwest in particular has got all of their aircraft ETOPS-certified. They’re serving the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America now. They can fly to Hawaii out of the West Coast any time they want.”

Ray Snisky, executive vice president for The Mark Travel Company, seemed to like the idea of Southwest entering the Aloha State’s travel market.

“As the exclusive packager since 1989 of Southwest, we are cheering for them to come to Hawaii,” he said, inciting bursts of laughter from around the table.

“They’re a different airline than they were before,” he added. “And a lot of folks don’t realize Southwest is the largest airline in the contiguous 48 states. It’s a much more impactful airline to the U.S. travel business than sometimes people may think, [and] I think they’re much more poised to go to Hawaii than they’ve ever been in the past.”
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