In March 2009, the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau launched an unusual experiment. The goal: Take a one-month period and focus all of the organization's marketing and advertising divisions -- consumer, online, travel trade, public relations and so forth -- on California's Bay Area in hopes of substantially impacting short-term visitor arrivals to Hawaii.
That type of intensely fixated campaign wasn't something the HVCB had ever tried before, but faced with rapidly diminishing arrival numbers and a forecast for more declines to come, it was time for a new approach.
"It was a very difficult market," said Julie Zadeh, managing director of travel trade marketing for the HVCB. "And with the economic situation we were facing, we just felt we needed to truly integrate our efforts into a highly concerted campaign."
Uniting forces with the Oahu, Maui, Big Island and Kauai chapters, the HVCB also convinced its supplier and wholesale partners to join the monthlong blitz and crafted a relentless regional campaign of print, radio, TV and online advertising combined with a busy schedule of public events featuring Hawaii's unique brand of cuisine and entertainment.
"Unfortunately we don't have the budget to be all things to all of the people of North America all year round," Zadeh added. "But to take a specific time period, and truly blitz that market, that was something we could do. We built a framework for it, developed a template and got our partners truly behind the idea, and, ultimately, it did move the needle."
According to Zadeh, much of the March campaign's success can be traced back to the hard work put in by Bay Area travel agents, and that result was certainly no accident. During the final week of February 2009, the HVCB hosted two separate San Francisco trade show events with its island chapters and supplier and wholesale partners -- intended solely for agents -- that included information about products, packages and pricing. Those gatherings were then followed by dinners featuring presentations about each of the state's four major islands, Hawaiian culture and history.
"We invited travel agents in so that we could let them know what was going to hit their market and give them a preview of what they'd see in the newspapers, on radio and on television," Zadeh explained. "And we also gave them the information about the destination's culture and history, product training from our supplier and wholesale partners ... so that when the phones started ringing, they'd know what to sell, what the best offers were, what the best airfares would be during a specific time period. So that they could talk about the destination and feel comfortable and confident in selling Hawaii."
State tourism officials were so pleased with arrival increases accredited to the Bay Area promotion that they ran a similar blitz in Los Angeles in September and one in the Pacific Northwest later last fall. Thanks to subsequent successes in both markets, more monthlong blitzes are scheduled for 2010, including round two recently completed in the Pacific Northwest this January, a second undertaking now under way in L.A. and a return to the Bay Area in March.
"In the first quarter alone, the HVCB is going to be covering the top three Hawaii source markets on the West Coast, which I think is just tremendous news for Hawaii tourism," said Jack Richards, CEO and president for Pleasant Holidays. "These things, based upon last year's performance, we found [them] to be very, very focused, very well organized. ... In 2010 travel agents should really take the opportunity to embrace and leverage the HVCB shows in their areas to increase their business."
While the 2010 media blitzes will likely be limited to West Coast cities, the HVCB is taking its educational evening events on the road with dates scheduled for locations across the country. The final week of this month will feature events on the East Coast starting Feb. 22 on New York's Long Island followed by stops in Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Houston.
"There's no better way for Hawaii to make sure it is best represented than through a professional travel agent," Zadeh said. "Especially once they've gone through our destination training."
Individuals interested in dates and times for the HVCB road show in their area are asked to send inquiries to [email protected].