The Hawaii tourism industry is enjoying an excellent 2016, maintaining a pace to set arrivals and spending records this year, but the Hawaii Visitors and Conventions Bureau (HVCB) plans to alter its approach some in 2017 with a renewed focus on New York.

During the HVCB's 2017 marketing plan presentation, held Sept. 28 at the Hawaii Tourism Conference in Honolulu, Jay Talwar, the organization's chief marketing officer, indicated New York may be underperforming as a source market because of many city residents' misconceptions about the Aloha State.

"In general, they think of us as sun, sand and surf; great place for your honeymoon, great place when you retire," he said. "But there are closer, cheaper beach destinations."

Talwar added that according to HVCB research, New Yorkers are looking for destinations that offer appealing cuisine, history and culture along with authentic experiences and new activities.   

"Hawaii is rated extremely low there," he said. "We think we can change that, knowing the product the way we do, [and] we think we can attack all those points."

Reminding conference attendees about the success of monthlong market saturations the HVCB blitzed west coast gateways like San Francisco and Los Angeles with during the economic downturn in 2009, Talwar hinted at a similar focus for New York next year, but with a couple of major differences.  First, the HVCB plans to aim the marketing effort at 25-to-34-year-olds, a millennial demographic that travels avidly but not in great numbers to Hawaii. They also don't watch much TV, according Talwar, a marketing medium that was major component of the 2009 West Coast saturations.

The New York push will also be centered around Hawaii cuisine.

"What we've decided is that we need to focus on one front to enter the marketplace, then expand our messaging. And cuisine is extremely hot right now. You can go to Whole Foods in Brooklyn, and there's a poke bar," Talwar said, referring to the traditionally Hawaiian approach to serving raw fish. "The New York Times last month had an article on the top 10 Hawaii restaurants in New York City. [The cuisine has] got a lot of cachet, and poke has taken off like crazy. It seems like a great time to go in there and lead with our cuisine but then allow us to talk about our culture."

Describing the 25-to-34, millennial market segment as a digital- and mobile-based audience, Talwar said one HVCB marketing strategy would be to pair local Hawaii chefs with New York social influencers for events to create social and digital interest. Noting that the demographic commutes daily through New York's boroughs, Talwar added that outdoor messaging based on commuting patterns would be another approach.

"These are all preliminary ideas," he said. "But they're all focused on that audience and the way to reach them and really get effective with our marketing."

New York is the only city east of the Rockies on Hawaii's list of top 10 U.S. source markets, according to Talwar.

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