Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

The Hawaii Visitors and Conventions Bureau has announced the next step in a multiyear initiative to build interest in the Aloha State among New Yorkers. For a limited time, people using the New York City subway system can receive a specially branded MetroCard that will serve as their entry for a free trip to the Islands. 

Through April 30 at eight participating subway stations across the city, there will be 250,000 Hawaii-branded MetroCards. Anyone who purchases one of the special cards can go to the website listed on the card, and enter the unique code on their card at Hawaii.NYC to enter the giveaway for a vacation for two people. 

The initiative began in 2017, HVCB chief marketing officer Jay Talwar said, with thorough research and analysis of the New York market and how its residents perceive Hawaii.

"New York poses some special challenges for several reasons," Talwar said. "The cost of advertising is high, and it's the most media-saturated market. Just imagine trying to get your individual message across in the cacophony of Times Square. On their commute, people are hunkering down with their small screens and podcasts and tuning out the messages thrown at them."

In the initial research, Talwar said, they found New Yorkers valued safety and a good bargain, like many travelers, in addition to unique cultural experiences, cuisine and adventures. Yet those surveyed did not score Hawaii high in those latter three categories.

"There was this huge gap in perception that was not accurate," Talwar said. "We do have amazing, unique cuisine, a beautiful, rich culture and amazing adventures, but the people didn't know. We saw it as a real opportunity."

HVCB also discovered that New Yorkers see themselves as the hardest workers in the land, who want to be re-energized and have enriching experiences when they travel. So in 2018 they introduced the Work from Hawaii promotion, where professionals applied for a free stay on one of the Hawaiian islands where they would have work accommodations while also being treated to guided experiences by their very own island ambassadors. 

"Work from Hawaii performed extremely well for us," Talwar said. "We got a great number and quality of people who put their names and CVs in for the giveaway. There were some amazing people that applied. The winners were thrilled, and they posted all over social media. ... It was impactful content. We got a lot of media mentions, and It did help us break through the cluttered media environment and target the right people."

Now, in year three of the progression, HTUSA and its public relations and marketing agency partner Edelman put together specific brand images for each island and then partnered each island with a New York-related brand for a campaign dubbed HIxNY. They knew New York's MetroCard could serve as a branded advertisement, and had the idea of using it not just for promotion but also as a contest entry. 

The MetroCard winner will be chosen on May 8, and announced shortly thereafter. Then, each month through October, there will be one giveaway for a vacation to a different island. Oahu will be in May, Island of Hawaii in June, Molokai in July, Maui in August, Kauai in September, and Lanai in October. Each island is partnered with a brand that will help drive the promotion. For example, the Oahu giveaway in May is tied to The Governor's Ball, a large three-day music festival in New York. Each island itinerary has been crafted in conjunction with the brand, such as The Infatuation (Maui) or Barry's Bootcamp (Hawaii Island), to meet the interests of that brand's clientele.

"We partnered with brands who have a strong tie to the city and New Yorkers," Talwar said. "Four of our brand partners were born in NYC and the other two have a big footprint in the city. It was important for Hawaii to select brands that New Yorkers connect with, then pair them with an island that encompasses their brand missions. This is all about showing New Yorkers that we have six unique island experiences that fit the vacation they're looking for.

"One of the keys to this effort is the messaging is designed to attract respectful visitors, people who care about the unique culture and environment," Talwar said. "We want to engage with people who want to embrace the experience as well as give back to the destination." 

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