After a painful internal reorganization
that redefined the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau's
responsibilities, refocusing its efforts on the North American
market, the HVCB has updated its marketing efforts to bring them
into line with both the market changes transforming Hawaiian
tourism and the needs of a new generation of visitors.
Hawaii posted a
record-breaking year in 2005, crossing the 7 million visitor mark
for the first time, and another 7 million-plus visitors are
anticipated again this year. However, the HVCB is going proactive
as the first signs of an arrivals slowdown appear.
While CEO John
Monahan remains bullish, he's also aware of the challenge of
maintaining momentum after several years of soaring profits and
double-digit growth in both visitor counts and spending.
"We're on top of
some incredible year-to-year increases in visitor counts, rates and
spending since 2004, but we've started to see a bit of softening
recently," he said. "We know the brand remains strong and that
airlift remains strong, but the competition remains fierce, with
Mexico pursuing many of our wholesalers and the Caribbean throwing
a lot of money into marketing."
The industry is
tackling those issues with a growing number of fall specials during
what is traditionally the slowest season in Hawaii tourism.
Hoteliers and wholesalers are offering significant discounts.
(See related story, "Autumn rates fall as hoteliers, operators push
Monahan also points
to a dramatically improved visitor experience in Waikiki, where new
stores, entertainment venues and hotels, condos and timeshare
properties -- most upscale -- mark the area's transition to a truly
urban beach resort.
A focus on
extensive renovations and amenity upgrades is also evident on the
Neighbor Islands, where rebranding has lead to extensive
renovations at many already upscale properties.
Waikiki, making a debut this December with the opening of the first
phase of Outrigger Hotels and Resorts' Waikiki Beach Walk project,
is providing the HVCB with a chance to piggyback with sponsors to
promote the islands.
With a modest
budget of $22.7 million for marketing in North America, which
provides 70% of Hawaii's visitors, Monahan has to carefully
evaluate how to reach the key market segments that have been
responsible for the state's tourist boom, now five years in the
Those segments are
romance, active and family travelers; in terms of marketing to age
groups, Generation X consumers age 25 to 45 are replacing baby
boomers as the key to the destination's future.
"We're making heavy
use of technology to sell Hawaii to consumers, media and the travel
industry," Monahan said. "Being interactive gives us the
flexibility to really show off the Islands and to do it by engaging
with the consumer."
In addition, the
longtime HVCB Web site at www.gohawaii.com is moving forward in
terms of technology and image quality.
The improved online
imagery at the site is the direct outcome of HVCB's move -- in
hindsight, quite smart -- in 2005 to invite visitors and residents
to submit their best Hawaii pictures.
The result is a
remarkable visual library that, as an interactive tool has enhanced
the bureau's print and online offerings.
The HVCB hopes to
again capture the mix of natural beauty, diversity and hospitality
that defines Hawaii on film through an autumn promotion called the
Picture Hawaii Contest, valid through Oct. 31.
The winner of the
photo contest, which is being offered in conjunction with Kodak and
Hawaiian Airlines, will earn a vacation to the Islands.
"Our charge is to
market on all budget levels [and] to go after the customer who
wants the diversity Hawaii offers; that's what our picture library
emphasizes," said Monahan. "It's what sets us apart; put that in
the context of the 'aloha spirit' and it allows people to really
engage with their visit and the host culture."
The HVCB has
contracted with the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association to work
on better integrating native Hawaiian culture into leisure vacation
"We are serious
about integrating Hawaiian culture into our market plan," said
From the look of
the statistics, the HVCB has a successful formula. Seventy-eight
percent of West Coast vacationers, who account for half of Hawaii's
total annual visitor tally, repeat, with an average of 5.25 visits
each. From the East Coast, Hawaii has a 62% repeat rate and an
average of 4.2 visits.
"We get great word
of mouth from our visitors and have very high visitor satisfaction
levels. A lot of that has to do with our Hawaiian cultural
foundations," said Monahan.
"Visitors are loyal
because Hawaii continues to stay ahead of the curve in terms of the
quality of the visitor infrastructure without losing the sense of
place that makes it special," he added.
information on the HVCB's Picture Hawaii Contest, visit www.gohawaii.com/picturehawaiicontest.
reporter Allan Seiden, send e-mail to[email protected].