Council briefed on tourism slump

With visitor arrivals at their lowest since Hurricane ‘Iniki, the Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau is shifting its marketing strategy to target those who can travel, not those who want to travel.

“We don’t have the luxury of dealing with the ‘wants,’” Sue Kanoho, Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau executive director, said Wednesday.

Kanoho made a rare appearance last week before the County Council at the request of Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura.

Kaua‘i arrivals are down 16.6 percent this year through August compared to the same period last year. But the slowest season is still ahead, and with double-digit declines for three consecutive months in the peak of summer, the remainder of the year is not expected to rally.

“We’re probably looking at a 25 to 30 percent drop,” Kanoho said of the year-end estimate.

Contributing factors to tourism’s decline include the loss of two cruise ships from Hawai‘i waters, the dissolution of Aloha and ATA airlines and rising fuel costs. The national economic crisis has exacerbated the problem.

The sharp declines in 2008 follow the biggest year for tourism that Kaua‘i has ever seen, with almost 1.3 million visitors in 2007.

Among the top five markets to Kaua‘i, only one has seen an increase in arrivals this year. Seattle-Tacoma-Bremerton is up 15 percent because of new Alaska Airlines direct flights.

The Neighbor Islands have been the hardest hit, as the interisland market has seen a 36 percent loss in seat capacity.

But there has been an increase in the number of direct flights to Kaua‘i; the scheduled nonstop seats have increased 16.3 percent for the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period last year.

Direct flights to Kaua‘i can translate to a longer stay, which is why it’s key to maintain those already in existence, Kanoho said.

“You want to get people who are going to come and stay longer and spend more,” she continued.

Toward that end, an additional $14.9 million has been spent statewide this year to date on marketing, $4 million of which targets winter 2008 travel.

Kanoho said another $4 million will market spring 2009 travel to potential visitors who may still be on the fence.

In addition to the state-level efforts of Hawai‘i Tourism Authority and the Hawai‘i Visitors and Convention Bureau, Kaua‘i’s tourism agency has upped the number of annual e-mail blasts it sends out from two to three.

The e-mails, which are sent to the bureau’s database of 220,000 opt-in consumers, include price-based offers that Kanoho solicits from member businesses.

An e-mail blast sent out in August included the most offers ever and returned strong view and click-trough rates.

“People were getting business off of this particular offer,” Kanoho said. The next blast will go out in a few weeks with winter offers.

Deals have also been given more prominence in KVB’s online advertisements with national publications such as National Geographic and Sunset magazines. Even on the bureau’s Web site, a “Fall Specials” icon is placed at the top center of the home page.

Still, the best form of advertising is a visitor who has a great experience. They’ll go home and tell their friends, Kanoho said, and nothing is more valuable for the island’s image.

“That becomes the blessing for others (to visit),” Kanoho said.

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