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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     Photo Courtesy: Makani

Book 'em, danno

The Valentine's Day episode of "Hawaii Five-O" showed the marketing power of the hit show for local tourism companies.

The episode featured a dozen gorgeous young people partying — and then being kidnapped — aboard the catamaran Makani, which takes tourists sailing and snorkeling.

"We had a record number of bookings the next day" — 70 customers, says Capt. John Jepson, general manager of the Makani. "A lot of people mentioned seeing the episode. And we definitely have been seeing more business since that episode."

Jepson is using the buzz to help establish a strong presence on Facebook and Twitter, where the company is posting photos and tweeting messages that tout the business while noting its starring role on TV. "We recently hired an information-technology guy who has been dedicated to work on our social-media site," Jepson says.



     Photo Courtesy: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson

Retail aims to get back its share

Last year, spending in Hawaii by tourists who arrived by air rose 16 percent, to $1.4 billion, from 2009, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

At one point, stores and other local retailers took in about 20 percent of visitor spending, says Carol Pregill, president of the 200-member Retail Merchants of Hawaii. That figure has since dropped to about 15 percent, she says.

To reverse the decline, retailers have stepped up their marketing to tourists. Increasingly, they are turning to in-room marketing at hotels to get on the radar of leisure travelers and conventioneers, who are being offered up to 15 percent off purchases.

"Retailers have been trying any way possible to reach tourists," says Pregill. "We have not seen their spending in retail. It's going mostly to lodging and transportation."




Illegal, But Not Eradicated Some hotel doormen still shake down cab drivers

It has been illegal for years for cabbies in Hawaii to pay cash kickbacks to hotel doormen, yet doormen at Waikiki hotels — including some luxury ones — are still shaking down taxi drivers and tour operators before handing over big-spending guests.

"Everyone knows that it's illegal, but it's still going on," says Howard Higa, president of The Cab, which has 10 contracts with hotels in Waikiki for a fleet of 700 taxis, the largest in the state.

Dale Evans, chief executive of Charley's Taxi and Limousine, says she has not only fired drivers over these payouts, but has also canceled contracts with hotels that refuse to rein in their doormen.

"Some hotels have no control over their doormen," says Evans, who has contracts with five hotels in Waikiki for a fleet of 300 taxis. "They let their doormen do whatever they want."

The illegal practice is not unique to taxi drivers. One owner of a tour shuttle service, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says kickbacks have become a "side business" for some doormen in Waikiki, who want as much as $10 for passengers to Pearl Harbor and $15 for North Shore-bound tourists.

Those paying the kickbacks are mainly independent tour operators and cabbies not employed by the taxi company with the official contract to serve guests at the offending hotels. "We call them bandit drivers," says Higa.

Honolulu police officials say the law is difficult to enforce. They do not cite any recent prosecutions and decline to speak much about the problem.

Hoteliers insist they have strict policies against the payouts to doormen.

Even so, Herman Villanueva, who has been driving a cab for the past 18 months, can't mask his frustration as he talks about recently being extorted for an illegal $5 kickback by a Halekulani hotel doorman hailing him for a guest who needed a ride to the airport.

"I didn't take the fare," says Villanueva, rolling his eyes over the $37 he would have earned after giving the doorman a $5 cut. "As far as I know, it could have been a setup, since what the doorman was doing is illegal."

Gerald Glennon, general manager of the Halekulani, says in a statement: "Our operating standards for all valet staff do not allow for this type of behavior. If it were ever determined that this in fact was happening, it would be immediately addressed."

Michael Nisky, general manager of the Marriott Waikiki, adds that most of the bigger resorts in Waikiki have policies against such behavior and says violators are aggressively disciplined. "Our employees are not allowed to make their own deals," he says.

Among the other offending hotels mentioned in taxi circles is the Aston Waikiki, but a spokeswoman for the hotel insists it has a policy against the illegal practice.


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