Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

Hoping to turn around a trend of declining cruise arrivals in recent years, the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) hired Access Cruise last month to provide the state agency with cruise development consultation.

Randy Baldemor, the HTA’s chief operating officer, said the move was made, in part, to better understand what the Aloha State can do to become more attractive to cruise companies. But he noted that his organization is still working on a comprehensive assessment of its cruise-related policies while considering a range of future opportunities, and it hasn’t decided how much cruise growth is appropriate for the Hawaiian Islands.

“We do want to increase visitor traffic from the cruise industry, but we’ll define the goals as we move forward,” Baldemor explained, noting that Access Cruise will help in that regard. “I think with their expertise and advice, we can start assessing what those numbers might mean for Hawaii.”

From January through August, Hawaii welcomed just over 146,000 visitors who arrived by cruise ship, or by air to board cruise ships, which was a 7.5% drop from the same eight-month period last year. A total of 125 ships visited the Aloha State throughout the entirety of 2014, and more than 243,000 passengers came to the state onboard one of those vessels or to tour within the Hawaiian Islands on a ship already here.  

Meanwhile, the Aloha State welcomed more than 8.2 million total visitors in 2014.

“There are certainly opportunities and room for growth,” Baldemor said of the Islands’ cruise business.

Looking to take a fundamental first step toward securing more of those cruise dollars, Hawaii launched a new vessel scheduling system in September, integrating the state’s existing but separate Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) port schedules into a single Web-based system.  

“In the past, we’ve been told that we were one of the more difficult destinations to schedule with, because we had six ports on four islands under the jurisdiction of two separate state entities,” said Laci Goshi, tourism brand manager for the HTA.

“We’re just trying to make it easier and to be a little bit more tech savvy when working with cruise lines,” Goshi said of the state’s new online program. “We don’t want that to be another barrier for them.”

According to Shannon McKee, founder and president of Access Cruise, the HTA’s recent effort to reach out to cruise industry officials through a series of face-to-face meetings is another key move toward increasing business from the market segment.

“The cruise lines have always wanted to call on Hawaii, but up until this point, it was never felt there was a desire for Hawaii to have the cruise lines come,” she said. “It’s an important first step for Hawaii to be saying, ‘We really value and want the cruise lines, and we want to grow this business, and we want to hear what it’s going to take and what you need from us to develop, support, and keep the cruise lines coming.’”

Baldemor added that there are some longer-term infrastructure improvements that could be considered moving forward to help increase cruise business, but he noted that the HTA has really just begun to assess a range of options and receive feedback from cruise companies.

“One of the things we need to look at is the congestion in some of the ports and what we can do to relieve some of that,” he said, noting that Lahaina on Maui is one location in particular where problems can arise.

“We’ll assess that as we consider the opportunities for growth,” he continued. “The vessel scheduling system should help us to identify where some of these challenges are as well.”

Baldemor also noted the importance of establishing better communication with Hawaii’s different island communities to ensure any new cruise business is actually desired and appropriate for the different corners of the state.  

“Hawaii is a group of islands, and there’s limited space and limited resources, [and] it is very important to always be very sensitive to that,” he said. “It’s very important to have communication and dialogue and also work towards a healthy balance—not just looking at Hawaii as a whole but also looking at the islands individually.  [And] we are very sensitive to that at the Hawaii Tourism Authority, and as we consider how to move forward, that’s going to be at the forefront of our minds.”

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