Industry Focus 1

The curtain rises on the inaugural Hawaii Arts Season

February, 2004

They come for the surf and sand, but will tourists start flocking to the Islands for slack key guitar, Verdi or hula kahiko?

The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) thinks so, and it’s putting $500,000 of its funds where its collective mouth is. Later this month, the HTA will be introducing the inaugural Hawaii Arts Season, a 10-week-long offering of arts and cultural events statewide, starting with the Hawaii Opera Theatre’s Merry Widow and ending with May Day concerts across the state. In between are dozens of events that encompass a healthy cross section of the state’s arts world, from Hawaiian music and cultural festivals to butoh dance and ballet.

“We’ve packaged all the things that happen naturally here and put them into a season, so that we have enough critical mass to justify marketing it,” says Frank Haas, vice president of tourism marketing for the HTA. “Any one particular event is difficult to market, because it just isn’t long enough or there’s not enough interest to support a major marketing campaign. But if you look at what happens over a 10-week season, then you can say, ‘Come in the springtime, because you’ve got so much to choose from.'”

According to Haas, the campaign is part of an effort to strengthen the tourist industry’s arrivals in the spring, one of the two “shoulder” periods (the other being the fall) when traffic is traditionally light. The HTA’s target visitors are the aging baby boomers with an interest in history and culture. They are most likely empty nesters, who have the time and money to travel, and don’t have the kids to entertain.

Cultural tourism is a potent economic force in the travel industry. According to the Travel Industry Association of America, cultural travelers tend to take longer trips, are more likely to fly to participate in more activities and spend more on average, $631 per trip compared with $457 for all U.S. travelers, excluding transportation to the destination.

In Hawaii, according to a study conducted by Americans for the Arts, visitors attending nonprofit arts events generated $33.8 million in expenditures in 2001, representing 31 percent of all audience-generated dollars, even though they made up only 14 percent of the audience.

“If we market this correctly, we believe that we can extend people’s stay, because you won’t be able to cram all these activities in five or six days,” says Haas. “Overall, the effort will contribute to the HTA’s goal of increasing expenditures and, in the long run, will change people’s attitudes about Hawaii.”

Approximately $100,000 of the money budgeted for Hawaii Arts has gone for local project management. The remaining $400,000 has gone to the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) for the production of a four-page magazine ad and single-leaf insert, which will run in Conde Nast Traveler, Travel and Leisure and Islands, as well as several other upscale magazines. In addition, HVCB will produce a 30-second spot that will air on cable television’s Travel Channel, Discovery Channel and Bravo in 14 major cities across the nation.

“We don’t believe that people will fly over the ocean to attend a particular event,” says Gail Harding, director of North America consumer marketing for HVCB. “Rather, we look at this effort as an enhancement. It may persuade certain visitors to change when they will visit Hawaii. We need them to be here in April and May.”

For local arts and cultural organizations, the sudden exposure is like mana from heaven. “We do some marketing to our visitors, but that’s only after they’ve arrived in the Islands,” says Juliana LaReaux, spokesperson for the Hawaii Opera Theatre. While performances are well attended, she’s not sure how much of the audience is comprised of visitors.

Says LaReaux: “It is virtually impossible for a single arts organization to market to visitors before they’re in Hawaii. This usually doesn’t happen, [so the Hawaii Arts Season is] exciting.”

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David K. Choo