LIHUE — Tourism officials say the task of attracting businesses and organizations to Hawaii for conventions, meetings and incentive trips can be difficult and competitive.
Hawaii Vice President Karen Hughes sees things differently.
As a way to bring more business to Hawaii, Hughes and other officials from Meet Hawaii, a sales-oriented collaboration between the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, Hawaii Convention Center and four island chapters, devised a plan to bring their colleagues together from across the state and focus their efforts on that one common goal.
The result was Meet Hawaii’s inaugural Destination Hawaii Prospecting Day, where hospitality industry partners statewide, including the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, Sheraton Kauai Resort, Kauai Marriott Resort, Kauai Beach Resort, and the St. Regis Princeville, gathered between Tuesday and Thursday on all islands to reach out to prospective clients.
“We always believe that anything we do as a community, as an ohana, has a whole lot more impact than anything any of us can do on our own,” Hughes said. “The idea of getting the whole industry together to just make some calls out to customers and find out what somebody on the Hawaii sales team can do to help make their jobs easier when they have a possibility of bringing a meeting to Hawaii was sort of the genesis of this idea of getting the whole tourism community together.”
Between January and October, 38,888 visitors to Kauai reported they were attending a meeting, convention or incentive trip, comprising about 4.2 percent of the 930,062 visitors who arrived on the island, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority documents.
That number was slightly lower last year, when 4 percent of the more than 1.1 million visitors to Kauai, or 44,056 people, reported they were attending a meeting, convention or incentive trip.
“While meetings, conventions and incentive trips is a smaller market than leisure for Kauai, it’s a lucrative market from a spending standpoint,” Kauai Visitors Bureau Executive Director Sue Kanoho said. “Very often the meetings are enjoying the various island activities with their attendees and have even provided Kauai Made shopping opportunities so they are taking home authentic gifts. Having top executives come to Kauai for an incentive meeting often means a return by those same individuals for a leisure vacation.”
Though only about 7 percent of tourists last year reported coming to Hawaii for meetings, conferences and incentive trips, Hughes said this sector of the tourism industry is a promising one. Business travelers to Hawaii, for example, will sometimes stay for a short vacation either before or after their meeting, convention or incentive trip, which helps bolster the leisure tourism base for some islands.
“When you have any member of a group come here, the chances of them coming back as a leisure customer are really high,” Hughes said. “People fall in love with Hawaii the minute they land here regardless of which island they visit, so once we get them here, we will likely get them back as a leisure customer later.”
Groups traveling for business, she added, provide solid clients for hotels and allows hotel officials to plan ahead. Leisure travelers, by comparison, sometimes book their hotel rooms up to two weeks or less before they arrive.
“It helps them (hotel officials) forecast,” Hughes said. “It helps them understand the business on the books, so to speak, ahead of the curve.”
Getting those groups here, however, has its challenges, including two common barriers: time and cost.
“You can go to Las Vegas in less time and at less cost, so our greatest tool to overcome that barrier is to get them here,” Hughes said. “Time after time, if we can get a meeting planner to come here and see the destination, they tend to be much more open about saying, ‘You know what, yes, it’s more expensive and it takes a few more hours to get here, but it is so worth it.’”
Another challenge, she said, is the overcoming stigmas of Hawaii as more of a vacation, rather than business, destination.
“I think any leisure destination has that same barrier, and it’s still there,” Hughes said. “I don’t think it’s as much of an issue as it used to be. We still have to make sure people understand that the benefits of coming to a destination like this — you’re relaxed, your mind is open to new ways of thinking because you’re out of your normal business environment, and that just naturally makes people think differently. That’s usually what people want out of a meeting: to be open-minded, collaborative, and in a peaceful environment where you’re not stressed out.”