A series of informal preparatory meetings for senior Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation officials took place on Oahu last week, ramping up the planning stage for the APEC leaders summit President Obama will host in Honolulu next November.
Heads of state from 21 APEC member economies are headed for Hawaii next fall, along with dozens of ministers of foreign affairs and industry. Recent estimates, in fact, put the total number of attendees over 15,000.
The U.S. last hosted the APEC Leaders meetings just outside of Seattle in 1993.
"I think this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Hawaii to host a meeting of this nature," Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, told Travel Weekly. "It only comes to a country once every generation, and this is an excellent opportunity to showcase who we are."
McCartney is one of 25 political, business, military and education leaders from the state making up the Hawaii APEC 2011 Host Committee. The group has been working with the U.S. State Department, White House officials and the Secret Service for months on APEC details.
"I think a big goal and vision is that this will help demonstrate that Hawaii is part of Asia and part of that region ... and we hope that this meeting will also demonstrate that Hawaii is a place that can have world-class meetings," McCartney said. "I think the other long-term hope and dream is that this will spur further economic development and diversification of Hawaii's economy into other sectors beyond tourism and just the meetings business."
While he was quick to point out the HTA is just one of many organizations working with the Hawaii host committee toward a successful event, McCartney did say a marketing plan designed to maximize the destination's return on APEC exposure is currently under development.
"There is a lot of growth and opportunity in terms of meetings business and group business and conventions business for Hawaii in Asia, so this meeting is a perfect fit," McCartney said. "Business organizations and entities that have an Asia link or connections are going to be key components in our plan."
Asked about the current state of Hawaii's visitor industry, McCartney was optimistic.
"We saw declining visitor arrivals and visitor expenditures in the second half of '07, then in '08 and '09, and for '10 we are very happy that we see an increase in visitor arrivals and visitor expenditures for the entire year," McCartney said.
"I think revenue-wise we are projected to have a billion dollars more in tourism revenue and probably about a half a million more visitors [this year], and we're pleased about that," he continued. "And it's a good mix from our traditional North American base and our friends in Asia, so we're upbeat about the future, and this meeting will help that momentum continue."