Blending Old and New Marketing

Small companies focused on tourism use innovative and tried-and-true tactics to bring in visitors

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     Dylan Ching, general manager of Duke’s restaurant, spends his
     marketing dollars on a range of efforts, from sponsoring canoe
     races and Pro Bowl parties, to Facebook and building
     relationships with hotel doormen, bellhops and concierges.
     Photo: David Croxford

Tourists have hundreds of ways to spend their money; here's how more than a dozen small companies draw them in.


Well-tended tourists in skin-baring dresses and tropical shirts sip after-dinner drinks on the terrace at Duke's restaurant, while a Hawaiian singer croons and waves lap onto Waikiki Beach.

General manager Dylan Ching, scanning the room, excuses himself to have two complimentary Hula Pies delivered to a table of repeat guests – a couple from Arkansas celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary with their daughter on her 35th birthday.

"We like to make sure that our guests leave with exceeded expectations," says Ching. "That's something we pour money into."

Duke's is also pouring a lot of money into a mix of traditional and new marketing tactics to draw in those tourists. The mix of old and new is also being practiced by hundreds of other tourist-dependent businesses across the state.

The traditional marketing strategies include commissions to concierges and taxi drivers, and colorful flyers and cards in racks scattered around resort areas. The new approaches include special events and working social media like Twitter, Facebook and Yelp.

     Vanessa Aispuro, owner of Makai Waikiki, says she is getting a
     lot more telephone bookings since launching a social media
     presence in January.
     Photo: David Croxford

A few lucky companies have hit the marketing jackpot: an appearance on "Hawaii Five-O" or a visit from a celebrity like singer Rihanna that generates buzz around the Internet and brings in lots of new customers.

Genesis Aviation offers helicopter tours from Honolulu International Airport and owner Jeff Gebhard estimates that tourists make up 99 percent of his customers. In the past, he has committed his marketing dollars strictly to direct mail, Internet advertising and commissions to hotel concierges.

Since January, Facebook has been added to his marketing mix. "We're trying to get every state and country represented on the page," he says.

Social media also represent a new dimension for Makai Waikiki, a moped and bicycle rental shop on Royal Hawaiian Avenue, where the average customer is a tourist age 18 to 26.

Owner Vanessa Aispuro says her past marketing initiatives focused on fliers, brochures and walking maps. But she has received much better results reaching her youthful customers on social-media sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as Yelp, an online business-review site where her company enjoys a positive rating.

"Since turning to them in January, I've noticed a lot more people calling to make bookings," she says. "Our phone calls have gone from zero in a day to six to seven calls daily."

Those changes in her marketing reflect a world where travelers can walk out of their hotels, point their smartphones into the street to find restaurants and shows, read reviews, consult maps and make reservations. But, for many companies, tried-and-true techniques remain effective.

Star of Honolulu is one example. Internet marketing and advertising have worked well for the company's whale cruises and sight-seeing tours, says president Ron Howard.

He attributes a double-digit increase in bookings through the first two months of the year to Internet sales. Yet, he's quick to point out that his brochures in kiosks in hotels and other places are what drive most sales.

"Clients tell us they respond to our brochures more than any other form of marketing," Howard says.

That is good news for Hawaii Folder Service, which has been around Waikiki since 1977.

More than 100 of Oahu's big and small tourist attractions pony up between $50 and $185 a month to display their brochures on racks at 180 locations across the island, says Bob Hogan, president and owner of the company. "The number of clients has remained pretty constant over the years," he says.

The folder service is one of the main ways word gets out about Germaine's Luau Hawaii, which averages between 400 and 900 people for shows five nights a week at its leafy enclave in Barbers Point, says Paulette Watson, director of sales.

The company's national reputation soared when ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" named it America's Best Luau. Since then, front-table luau seats have hosted such high-profile guests as Chelsea Clinton, says Watson, who recalls receiving a thank-you letter from former President Bill Clinton for the hospitality afforded his daughter.

"We get a lot of repeat guests," she says. "And it mostly comes from word-of-mouth advertising."

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