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Tourism's New Reality: Back to the future

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4) Marketing Has to Get Smarter

 MT: In general, I think we’re working harder in the marketplace to try to attract visitors, recognizing that we have to be demonstrating the value of a vacation here. This year, you can get packages for less than they were a year ago. Also, customers worldwide have become so much more sophisticated and so much more willing to use the Web as a way of finding information and actually executing the transaction. It makes for a far more educated consumer, and that’s a good thing.

MW: For all intents and purposes, if you thought twice about coming here for the last couple of years, now’s the time to do it. You get the most bang for your buck. A lot of hotels recognized the challenge with the U.S. domestic market, so they’re really hooking on to that “staycation” model and increasing kamaaina marketing, probably more so than they have in the past. From a hotel’s point of view, it’s probably very effective. That’s why during hard times is not when you cut back on marketing. In fact, you add more.

LU: One of the things we do have control over is how we expend our own funds — which are getting smaller and smaller. We’re asking all of our partners to work with us so we can streamline and make sure we still have effective programs for our visitors. That’s what we can control. We’re being very careful about what we’re going to market, how we’re going to market and when we’re going to market. We’re one of the smallest states, one of the most difficult places to reach and our competition is the entire world. With that in mind, we brand. We’ve gone into the marketplace with a little more strategic initiative.

JG: We’re not cutting back on marketing. In fact, we actually spent $250,000 more [in 2008]. We’re trying to concentrate more on our Web site because everybody’s using the computer, especially folks in Asia. We know that our new Web site has to be easy, fantastic, intriguing; everything we think the customer is looking for.

DU: We’ve been putting more money into Asia as we’re starting to see developments and visa waivers. Education to the retail travel agents is a big component of what we’re trying to do so that they have the expertise to suggest and, to a degree, persuade the consumer of Hawaii as a destination. Value is huge, but we’re not pushing value in the sense that this is Mexico. We’re pushing value in terms of the overall experience. I think that’s what the message is: that we have good pricing, but the overall value and experience is there. Especially for the domestic market, we are to a degree exotic, yet we’re on U.S. soil. North America is our No. 1 market, so it has always been the emphasis.

5) Time to Recreate Visitor Industry Ohana

 MT: I think we all have to do a little soul searching in terms of how we treat visitors. We need to recognize that they are an important component of our economy. The quality of their experience and their interaction with us as residents is important. And it’s not just people in the industry; it’s all of us as residents, too. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together. It’s kind of the rising-tide issue: if the community in Hawaii is successful, the tide will rise and many businesses will benefit from it, so we have to be supportive of one another and cooperate.

MW: We know that we have been through bad times in the past. We know that, as we come out of these downturns in our economy, we come back stronger and healthier than we’ve ever been. In good times, you’re doing your own thing, you’re reaping the rewards, you’re moving forward. But in bad times, you look to your neighbors and figure out how to work through this, how to work together, what things need to be implemented, what can be done collectively. So this kind of situation really fosters partnerships and working together, because we’ve all got a common goal. This is going to make us stronger. I do think there are opportunities, definitely in the foreign markets and in the convention and incentives businesses.

JG: The world’s changed and we live in a new world. The industry needs to work with the HTA and HVCB to make sure that we’re all working together to get our message across. We’ll be much more effective if we’re all on the same page. Sure, we compete with the guys across the street or on the next block, but we’ve all got a stake in this. It’s up to all of us to collaborate and make sure that we keep the tourism industry in Hawaii vibrant, for everybody’s sake — we need to.

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