Kurt Weinsheimer
Kurt Weinsheimer

When you and your clients dream of the ideal vacation, Hawaii is usually high on everyone's list. No matter what kind of experience you want, from a relaxing beach vacation to an outdoor adventure, a romantic honeymoon or a family-friendly getaway, Hawaii checks all the boxes.

Recently, I was lucky enough to be invited to Hawaii to speak at the Travel Weekly Hawaii Leadership Forum. In preparation, we at Sojern took a deep dive into Hawaii as a destination in order to see just how complex the data can get, especially for such an established travel spot, and how this data can be used to ignite marketing efforts.

Top and trending source markets

With seven of the top 10 origin cities, the U.S. dominates as the major source of travelers to Hawaii. And with the exception of New York, all of them are on the West Coast. This information isn't necessarily groundbreaking; because the West Coast is so close to Hawaii, travel to the destination is easy and often at the top of mind.

However, when we dug into trends in the major origin markets, we saw something unexpected in two major California markets: San Francisco and Los Angeles were moving in opposite directions. While searches from L.A. led the positive U.S. trend (up 16% year over year), San Francisco was down 7%.

Outside the U.S., the top 10 source markets for Hawaii include Japan, South Korea, Canada and Australia. It's interesting to note that European demand is greater than many might expect: Five of the top 10 origin countries are in Europe, including Germany, Spain and Italy.

Beyond knowing the top 10 source markets, it's important to understand emerging or declining markets. For example, over the last year, Asia-Pacific has hit some serious challenges, with many parts of the region experiencing an economic slowdown. Coupled with the strength of the dollar, we're seeing a dip in recent Hawaii searches from Asia-Pacific.

Year over year, Singapore is showing a 6% decrease in searches, Sydney an 11% decrease and Taipei a 48% decrease. Only Bangkok bucks the trend, with 5% growth.

On the flip side, Miami, as a Hawaii source market, is going against the grain of domestic strength with an 8% decrease in intent. Perhaps the loosening of Cuba travel restrictions and lots of closer Caribbean destinations are eating away at Miami's interest in Hawaii. This data impacts marketing tactics because you shouldn't take your U.S. markets for granted nor focus too much on Asia-Pacific; doing so misses new customers in old markets.

Across all regions, the average search lead time is 104 days, and the average duration searched is eight days. If you run marketing against the averages, you'd hit U.S. vacationers but miss searchers from most of the world.

From a lead-time standpoint, Asia-Pacific and European travelers start searching up to 150 days out, much earlier than U.S. travelers. Likewise, length of stay varies significantly by origin market. Continental Asia travelers are looking for shorter trips, on average six days in length. Conversely, European travelers want to make the most of the long journey, searching for two weeks or more. With insights like this, you can adjust the timing for outreach and target offers that align with expected traveler behavior.

Preparing for emerging challenges

While some data points, such as trip averages, remain fairly consistent across regions, where we do see shifts are in Hawaii's competition. For example, potential competitors such as Brazil have recently seen drops in travel. While some may want to blame the drop on Zika, the virus is only a minor factor for travel disruption in Latin America, where political tensions are usually largely to blame.

Which destinations are benefitting from the dip in intent, if not Hawaii? San Jose, Costa Rica; San Juan; and Havana are all emerging competitors for Hawaii and are gaining share from Brazil. Knowing your emerging competitors means you can focus a little bit away from Brazil travelers and toward some of these emerging competitors.

No matter the destination, one of the biggest challenges for marketing is to get the right message to the right target at the right time. In order to do this, you need to know which markets are searching for your destinations and not treat all travelers the same.

While Hawaii hits the mark for most vacationers, each island and town offers different treats for different travelers. So take the time to understand your potential clients' desires so you don't hit the average and miss the target.

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