Trans Orbit Hawaii Inc.
Local ground tour operator Trans Orbit Hawaii Inc. may well be the next victim of the old adage, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Over the past few years, resort destinations around the world – particularly Southeast Asia—have successfully leveraged themselves as bonafide destination competition for the Japan market, luring away thousands of would-be tourists from Hawaii, and chipping away at Trans Orbit’s bottom line. Company revenues took a 20.8 percent dip last year, as Japanese tourists opted for cheaper vacations in the wake of their country’s weak economy. Ironically, it is a decision being made by Trans Orbit Hawaii’s parent company, Japan-based Trans Orbit Co. Ltd., to open a new branch in Thailand this December, that may stifle growth even further this year.
“It is the same company, but maybe we should compete for customers,” jokes Issei Watanabe, vice president of sales and marketing for Trans Orbit Hawaii. He is projecting another 10 to 15 percent decrease in sales at the end of this year but hopes to bring 2002 sales figures back up or close to the $33.8 million the company reported in 2000. Watanabe says Waikiki is the mainstay for the majority of Trans Orbit’s 70,000 customers, and the recent improvements, upgrades, and renovations to the area should help drive an increase in demand for services, despite shrinking visitor counts. This year Watanabe and his team will be placing heavy emphasis on raising the quality of service and products, warranting higher prices. “Right now the market share is split very evenly, so there is a pricing war,” he adds.
He also has an interesting take on strengthening visitor numbers to Hawaii. According to his research, honeymooners, couples tying the knot and their wedding guests, comprise the largest segment of Japanese visitors to the Hawaiian Islands. “They also spend the most money,” he says. “So weddings are very happy events. They are making the Hawaii market and atmosphere better and hopefully if the economy gets a little better, maybe the group business will come back, and the combination will make the total number grow.
After all, Hawaii is and always will be a very evergreen destination to the Japanese.”