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Selling Point

The Art of Attraction

The students in my marketing class at Hawaii Pacific University are writing marketing plans this month for Outrigger’s new Waikiki Beach Walk, a beautiful, $585 million development with five hotels and more than 50 shops and restaurants.

One of the topics the students are exploring in their papers is the idea of creating a of signature attraction for the area. Signature attractions are a little-discussed marketing tactic. They can be events, such as Oktoberfest, which draws 6 million tourists a year to Germany. They can be mascots, like Disneyland’s costumed characters. They can be architectural structures, like the Trevi Fountain, which draws visitors with a promise that, if they throw coins into the fountain, they will return to Rome.

What makes something a signature attraction? Some attractions are iconic: they totally represent the place. The Dole Pineapple, a 100,000-gallon water tank built in 1927, was visible from as far away as Waikiki Beach and quickly became a Honolulu landmark because of Hawaii’s association with pineapple.

Elvis Presley raised $50,000 (of about $500,000 needed) with two concerts here to help build the Arizona Memorial in 1962. The memorial is iconic of World War II, and more than 1.5 million visit it yearly.

Mount Rushmore, built in 1941 to increase tourism in the Black Hills region of South Dakota, is iconic of the United States and draws more than 2 million visitors each year.

Iconic of San Francisco are its cable cars, which started running in 1873. Today, more than 19 million visitors hop aboard for trips to Fisherman’s Wharf and views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Spectacular sizes draw tourists. The Eiffel Tower was the tallest building in the world when it opened in 1889. Aloha Tower was the tallest building in Hawaii from 1926 until 1962, and it greeted all the ships that arrived in Honolulu.

The Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas puts on a dazzling show two or four times an hour with 1,000 water nozzles and 4,000 lights.

The Sapporo Snow Festival, with its spectacular ice carvings, began in 1960 with snow statues built by six high school students. Today, it draws 2 million visitors a year.

AAALOHA! From 1926 to 1962, the iconic Aloha Tower was the tallest buidling in Honolulu. photo: courtesy Aloha Tower

Some signature attractions use celebrities to draw tourists. More than 50 celebrities and political leaders were invited to plant banyan trees on the Hilo Walk of Fame on Banyan Drive. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Amelia Earhart and Louis Armstong all have plaques in front of their trees.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame began in 1960 with more than 2,500 blank stars to fill with celebrity names (200 are still blank) to attract visitors. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre made itself the most famous theatre in the world with hand and footprints of more than 170 celebrities embedded in cement.

Some places have special events to draw tourists. Mardi Gras began in New Orleans in 1699 and generates more than $800 million in revenue. The Rose Bowl grew out of an 1890 event designed to promote Pasadena, Calif., with a Tournament of Roses festival.

The Miss America pageant began in 1921 as a publicity stunt to lure tourists to Atlantic City after Labor Day.

Some attractions are unique. People go to Pike’s Market in Seattle to see workers throw fish. They go to Gilley’s in Texas to ride “The Bull.” Millions go to Philadelphia each year to see the Liberty Bell, which cracked when it was first rung. Switzerland is famous for its unique Swiss Army Knife.

Some places are known for their food or drink, but I’ll take on that topic next month.

What’s the formula for signature attractions? It starts with something that captures the essence of the place and yet is totally unique. Signature attractions are often spectacular or amusing.

My class’s best idea for the Waikiki Beach Walk: To bring back Ukulele Ladies. We used to have them in Waikiki. They could be greeters, entertainers and guides. Hundreds of tourists a day would come by to take pictures with the Ukulele Ladies.

Bob Sigall teaches marketing at Hawaii Pacific University and owns a company called Creative-1. Contact him at

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