InsightA small group of Hawaii travel and tourism executives accepted Travel Weekly’s invitation to take part in a roundtable discussion last month at the Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Resort Collection in Waikiki, offering some insight into Aloha State hospitality and the destination’s cruise industry.

“This market is tremendously underserved from a cruise perspective,” said Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays. “If you look at Caribbean, if you look at Mexico, if you look at Tahiti, if you look elsewhere, the Honolulu port here is tremendously underserved in terms of cruise capacity, [and] that is a noticeable deficit in Hawaii tourism.”

ShaneNelsonRichards spoke of limitations cruise companies face resulting from the Jones Act and acknowledged those difficulties are likely affecting Hawaii’s cruise potential, but he said Pleasant Holidays did well when Norwegian Cruise Line had three ships based in the Islands.

“The seven-day cruise portion was actually the smallest piece of the pie,” he said. “The bigger part was the pre- and post-hotel stays, the food and beverage, the optional tours and the activities. The average length of stay for us, for example, went to 11 or 12 nights in Honolulu, and our customers would often go on to a neighbor island, and the money they spent was significantly higher than those on just a standard hotel stay in the Islands.”

John Monahan, president and CEO of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, reminded the group that Norwegian introduced the three ships in 2005 but then had some “model problems and pulled back to one.”

“I understand that one is very successful now,” Monahan said. “We’re hopeful that they will be adding ships back, but nothing is on the horizon at this point.”

Monahan added that the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) is actively pursuing a strategy to increase cruise business to the Hawaiian Islands but said he wasn’t at liberty to elaborate on that planning just yet.

“But we agree with Jack,” he said. “Cruise is an area that’s underserved, and the state agencies are working on it.”

Year to date through April, just over 130,000 visitors traveled to Hawaii by cruise ship or by air to board cruise ships, an increase of 4.6% over the same period a year prior, according to the most recent HTA statistics.

Monahan and Richards also agreed on the crucial role Hawaii’s approach to hospitality has played in the destination’s continued travel industry success.

“The Hawaiian word hookipa is loosely translated as hospitality,” Monahan said. “And it’s a Hawaiian value that you are obligated to provide hospitality to visitors that come into your home, and that is at the core of ‘aloha’ and everything we do here in the industry.”

Richards referred to Hawaii’s hospitality as “a key differentiator.”

“It’s the primary attraction for people when you survey them and ask ‘Why Hawaii?’” Richards said. “They say ‘It’s the aloha spirit and the people.’ You can’t get that in the Caribbean, you cannot get that in Mexico. You can get it in Hawaii, and for that reason, in my opinion, Hawaii will always remain one of the most popular destinations in the world.”
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