President Obama and his family landed at Oahu's Hickam Air Force Base on Dec. 24, kicking off a 10-day visit that had Hawaii's tourism officials grinning from ear to ear.
"When the rumors started that [President Obama] was looking at coming out here, of course everybody got very excited in the visitor industry," Marsha Wienert, Hawaii's tourism liaison, told Travel Weekly. "We are very pleased that he chose to come home for the holidays, and the media coverage that has happened because of his visit, pre-arrival and since arrival -- I mean, you just can't buy that kind of publicity."
The president's holiday vacation comes at the end of an extraordinarily difficult year for Hawaii's No. 1 industry. Through November, arrivals to the state were down 5.9% and visitor spending was off by 12.9%, or $1.3 billion, when compared with 2008's figures.
However, thanks to a rash of recent winter weather across the U.S. mainland, coverage of the Honolulu native's Christmas Eve arrival helped broadcast the Islands' 80-degree weather and warm sunshine across the country -- and the globe -- with what the state's tourism industry officials are calling "perfect timing."
"I think whenever you see such positive images of Hawaii at a time when there are huge snowstorms on the East Coast, it portrays our state very, very well," said Shari Chang, senior vice president of sales, marketing and revenue management for Aston Hotels & Resorts. "And it definitely reminds people that there's a great alternative not that far away than can very easily be taken advantage of."
According to Wienert, the president's trip has already had a measurable effect on Oahu bookings.
"It's had an immediate impact just from the amount of people who come with him," she said. "Just look at the press corps that's here. As one hotelier told me, 'This is a big piece of business.' "
It's the long-term impact of the Obamas' visit, of course, that really seems to have industry officials excited, and Wienert said the media coverage of the president's trip will go a long way toward convincing potential visitors that there's no reason to keep delaying vacation plans.
"We're still going through some challenges economically, especially in the U.S., and a lot of people are putting off big vacation trips," Wienert said. "So hopefully what [Obama's visit] does is it puts the image of Hawaii in their mind, so that as our economy improves -- and we know it will -- and people start to travel again like they did, hopefully Hawaii will be at the top of their to-do list."