The Hawaii Tourism Authority's board of directors voted last week to approve reallocating $2.5 million to support new marketing efforts for Island of Hawaii tourism, which declined following Kilauea Volcano's eruption last year.
The money, which will be used by Hawaii Tourism United States and Hawaii Tourism Japan, will support marketing and publicity programs, augmenting ongoing programs in place by the agency's global marketing team with guidance from the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau.
"With this new marketing campaign, our goals are to help reverse this continuing decline and emphasize to travelers the positive message about the abundance and diversity of attractions, activities and sites to see and enjoy on the beautiful Island of Hawaii," HTA President and CEO Chris Tatum said in announcing the added resources.
One of the new initiatives is a bus tour of the U.S. West Coast, which has remained a strong market for Hawaii Island.
"We're going to take a bus, wrap it in scenery from Hawaii, start in San Diego," Tatum said. "The sales team from the market will be on that bus, and they'll be stopping at all the major travel agents, visiting the different TV stations and getting the message out on what a great place Hawaii island is to visit."
Through the first two months of the year, according to HTA data, visitor spending and arrivals are both down roughly 10% compared with the same period in 2018. In February 2019, visitor spending declined 18% compared to the second month of last year, due to a 12% decrease in visitor days and 6% fall in daily spending. While fewer visitors from Japan, Canada and U.S. East came to the island, visitation from the U.S. West was up 2% in February.
The volcano has changed and the topography of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is drastically altered in some areas after five months of eruptions and tremors. There is no active lava flow to see in the park at this time. The plans presented at the HTA's March board meeting reflect that shift, and stressed the importance of redefining the tourism image of the Island of Hawaii from "the volcano island" to the "the island of endless adventures."
While the lava flows are gone, there are new black sand beaches, a new crater and some of the best air quality in years on the island. Now that the volcano is much less active following its long period of eruptions, the amount of VOG, air pollution from the volcano, has noticeably declined.
Hawaii State Rep. Richard Onishi, who is chair of the House Committee on Tourism and International Affairs and whose Hawaii Island district covers Hilo and Volcano, attended the board meeting and also provided an update.
The Hawaii legislature has approved an additional $60 million in emergency relief funding to repair damaged infrastructure on the Island of Hawaii.
The $2.5 million reallocated by HTA will be divvied up between Hawaii Tourism United States ($1.5 million) and Hawaii Tourism Japan ($1 million) for a host of new branding, marketing, and publicity programs that will complement the ongoing marketing efforts by the various regional HTA teams along with the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the most visited attraction in the Aloha State, and when Kilauea erupted on May 3, 2018, the park was forced to shut down as the geological activity continued for five months, with lava flows covering roughly 14 square miles of land and consuming more than 700 homes
While the affected area, lower Puna in the southeast corner of the island, makes up a small portion of the Big Island, tourism in all areas took a hit. Cruise ships skipped a few weeks of scheduled stops on the island when the eruptions started, and the town of Hilo, on the east side of the island and closer to the park, has seen greater declines in visitation than Kona.
Repairs are ongoing at the national park, and large buses are still not allowed to drive all the way to the ranger station as road and other infrastructure repairs are still required. The county is also working with private entities on the possibility of a new museum with artifacts from the park's Jagger facility, which was too damaged to reopen.
Prior to the eruptions, the Island of Hawaii was on a record pace for visitation through the first four months of 2018. After the volcanic activity started, those gains gradually slipped away, and the island ended the year with 50,000 fewer visitors than in 2017.
"This new branding campaign is needed to help enhance how travelers see the island of Hawaii as a destination and to revitalize tourism for the good of businesses and residents who rely on its sustainability," Tatum said.