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Visions of Visitors

Four tourism stakeholders assess Hawaii’s future

David Carey Chief Executive Officer, Outrigger Hotels and Resorts

What do you think we can do better in the visitor industry here?

Carey: I think Hawaii has tremendous opportunity in the sports tourism market. There have been two big soccer tournaments in Honolulu since the Waipio complex has been built. Many of the participants were first-time visitors. The nature of the tournaments suggests that the participants will go to the tournament anyway-so why not in Hawaii? We should concentrate on developing tournaments in multiple sports, including soccer, softball, ultimate Frisbee and the like.

Weinert: The industry needs to come together with a clear vision as to who we are and where we want to go. We need to work together for the common good of the community and the industry.

Parker: Hands down, pay attention to the infrastructure. I am a huge believer in looking after infrastructure issues at the same time you're looking after marketing campaigns. Marketing money is thrown out the window if the visitor arrives to find ridiculous traffic, poorly maintained parks, inadequate signage, limited public transportation, crime or pollution. It's amazing to me that the top three visitor attractions on Kauai are managed by DLNR, a department that undergoes cuts all the time. No privately operated attraction would dream of making such drastic cuts and hope to maintain its visitor base.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority and Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau have come under increasing fire and have run up debts. What can we do to better manage those organizations?

Marsha Weinert Hawaii Tourism Director

Carey: The key to having the HTA run well is to make clear what success looks like. At the moment, there are expectations that it and the HVCB under it are to solve all kinds of issues. If you simply focused on the results to the community of the relatively stable visitor market in these troubled times, the state's marketing entities should get more positive recognition. Unfortunately, the tendency is to focus on relatively small process issues, as they are easy for a state auditor, for example, to understand. Understanding what marketing expenditures are appropriate and effective takes experience. In the state government environment, marketing will always be a difficult topic to dissect and assess, because it takes judgment, experience and a degree of subjectivity. Marketing also requires adequate time to see a return on investment. Today, the expectation is to see immediate, overnight results, which is not realistic in our industry.

Weinert: I will be working closely with each organization to understand its challenges and hopefully find some opportunities to assist it.

Parker: The best way to avoid the fire and keep the "investors" - the state Legislature - informed is to include them in the decision-making. Perhaps there are committees and sub-committees within the HTA and HVCB on which state legislators and auditors can serve.

Kim: HTA governance must be open and inclusive. Businesses should know that the HTA does not represent a few special interests and that decisions are made fairly and in the best interests of the visitor industry and the public.

Margy Parker Director, Poipu Resort Association

What are the key trends you see emerging that will have a big impact on our state's largest economic engine?

Carey: The thing that worries me the most is whether or not we will have coordinated community support to rejuvenate Waikiki. Waikiki is a huge contributor to our economy that is often taken for granted. Of the roughly 30,000 visitor-related rooms in Waikiki, most of the properties were built before the 1980's. Many, many buildings are at the end of their useful lives. Customer expectations have risen in 20 years. If we don't enable the physical plant to be upgraded, we will lose tremendous revenues, taxes and jobs. The state budget would be in horrific shape then.

Weinert: The. U.S. economy is becoming healthier and there's a pent-up demand there for travel. Canada's economy is increasing and the potential for growth is enormous. Hopefully the Japanese economy will increase soon, and, by positioning us now in the marketplace, we should be able to reap the rewards in the future. China is emerging as a potentially large, new market segment. Destination weddings are becoming very popular and we need to romance this market section. Our activities are phenomenal and we need to continue to attract active travelers.

Parker: A major trend is the increasing family market.When families travel, they travel in groups of anywhere from three to 20. On Kauai, we've seen family travel grow from 28 percent to 46 percent of our summer visitors over a two-year period. This is huge. Families tend to stay longer, use more services and have a broader reaching word-of-mouth recommendation when they return home. Families probably book larger rooms, rent larger cars and spend more at restaurants, activities and attractions. And they probably stay for at least a week to 10 days.

Donna Mercado Kim State Senator, Tourism Committee Chair

Kim: I see a trend toward focusing more effort on developing and improving our products. Whether it is cultural tourism, ecotourism, golf or weddings, the development of these products will eventually market itself. The private sector spends millions on marketing and advertising. It needs the government to ensure that the products which brand Hawaii and our natural resources are renewed and maintained.

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