Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB), the destination’s North American marketing agency, officially launched a new social media campaign Jan. 13, hoping to attract U.S. travelers who’ve never before visited the Islands.

Jay Talwar, the HVCB’s chief marketing officer, said his agency’s research has identified more than 26 million people as “Hawaii Target Travelers,” a group of mainland U.S. residents the HVCB believes are best suited for an Aloha State vacation. But at least a third of those potential visitors have not yet set foot on the Islands.

“They’ve seen our ads, they’ve seen our messaging over the years, they’ve heard our pitch, and they still haven’t come,” Talwar said.

HVCB market research conducted with the U.S. “never-beens” has shown that while these consumers feel as if they already know a great deal about Hawaii, it turns out they really don’t, Talwar reported.  

He further explained that friends and family have long been the most persuasive influencers when travelers make destination decisions, so the HVCB has turned to social media as a way to enlist those who’ve already been to Hawaii — 98% of whom say they had a great time according Talwar — in the HVCB’s effort to increase first-time visitor bookings.

“We looked at what people are posting on social media platforms now and said, ‘What if we were able to amplify that in a way that had those never-beens getting messaged from their friends and family about all the great experiences they’ve had in Hawaii?’ ” Talwar said.

In the works for some time now, the HVCB’s #LetHawaiiHappen social media campaign asks both Hawaii residents and visitors to share not only the iconic, well-known aspects of the state but also the surprising discoveries awaiting potential visitors who aren’t afraid to get off the beaten path.

“It’s those unexpected or serendipitous moments you have that are unplanned in Hawaii,” Talwar said. “It could be driving the road to Hana and turning the corner and seeing the most incredible waterfall 20 yards off the road, [or] spending a little time with a local family. Whatever it may be that makes you happy. That’s what we want to see and want to share.”

The HVCB began promoting the LetHawaiiHappen hashtag late last year to some of its internal audiences and stakeholders, and since then it has generated more than 3.4 million social media impressions across platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google Plus and YouTube.

Meanwhile, the HVCB has also launched a marketing campaign through more traditional channels, buying TV time for ads with the #LetHawaiiHappen branding on the Travel Channel and HGTV along with major print buys in national publications and a notable presence on digital and online platforms, all of which also kicked off in January.

One important distinction from previous paid advertising campaigns, however, is the HVCB is including user-generated content — primarily people’s photos but also their videos — discovered through the #LetHawaiiHappen social media initiative.  

“We turned the tables a little bit on the composition of our marketing program and are really leading now with the user-generated content,” Talwar said.

Consumers can expect a similar focus in the paid ads, one showcasing the rewarding experiences travelers often enjoy serendipitously in the Hawaiian Islands.

“Our research has shown us that people certainly enjoy those iconic [Hawaii] elements, whether they’re experiences or sites,” Talwar said. “But what they really enjoy is just hanging loose and going with the flow and experiencing something that they couldn’t have planned to have happen that turns out to be that merit badge moment.”

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