2015 visitor outlook bright

LIHUE — A promising outlook for attracting visitors to Hawaii was evoked by a host of speakers at the Kauai Visitors Bureau annual luncheon Thursday. 

“We are at the point where the airlift is well above pre-recession levels, and the demand for Hawaii is very, very strong,” said John Monahan, president and CEO of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.

HVCB started its individual island branding campaign some time ago when it was clear that marketing all islands as Hawaii was confusing visitors who were not sure what landmarks, cities or islands to visit. Now, the effort is going a step further by increasing the frequency of neighbor island advertisements over Oahu for emphasis.

“It used to be called the islands of aloha, but it was not the islands of Hawaii,” he said before about 185 people at Aqua Kauai Beach Resort. “We want to give each island its specific brand and not just Hawaii.”

Monahan said about 80 percent of North American visitors fly directly to their island of choice, so that is where new dollars are being invested. This reduces the multi-island visitors, but he said it is important to recognize that a complicated flight itinerary will push people to other destinations. 

Another project is growing the number of first-time visitors, he said. Some 35 percent of the 26 million known destination travelers identified as the demographics that match a Hawaii visitor have yet to visit the islands.

“They are not buying the Hawaii pitch,” Monahan said.

The shift in media campaigns, travel and public relations and social media is intended to address higher room availability on the neighbor islands. More new customers are influenced by what friends and family say about their experience than they are from travel ads, agencies and programs, he added.

“We have high satisfaction from repeat visitors but we have to complement that with more first timers,” Monahan said.

Kauai Visitors Bureau Director Sue Kanoho said information going out through online media includes story lines that evoke emotion and define the personality of each island. The social media footprint is an outreach that reaches millions.

“Images speak to people,” Kanoho said.

Kanoho said the returning nonstop flights from Oakland and Los Angeles help a great deal, with visitor numbers down slightly but spending still up. She believes the dip was due to the attention brought to Hawaii during the three hurricanes and is confident year-end numbers will improve.

The Korea, Australia, New Zealand and China arrival numbers are up statewide and Kauai is working hard to move the Asia visitor numbers higher with travel contractors. The Europe numbers are up 4 percent, she added, and Kauai has an international contractor in Latin America for the first time.

Tourism is critical to Kauai’s economy.

Through the first 10 months of 2014, nearly 1 million visitors to Kauai spent $1.2 billion, up 7 percent from last year. For October alone, visitor expenditures on Kauai gained 19.2 percent to $118.6 million. Arrivals fell 1.9 percent to 85,248 visitors. However, their average daily spending of $187 per person was 20.1 percent higher than last October.

“Much of Kauai’s workforce is linked directly or indirectly to the visitor industry,” says the Kauai Chamber of Commerce. “Visitor accommodations, eateries, retail services, transport and activities comprise a significant portion of Kauai’s economy.”

Patrick Dugan of McNeil Wilson Communications, KVB public relations firm, said the 2015 plan will focus on East and West Coast markets. KVB will visit New York and Toronto in February, as the two biggest American media markets for Canada and the U.S. They will visit Los Angeles and San Francisco in September.

“We are also going after the niche markets of romance, arts and culture, cuisine, family, outdoors and adventure and LBGT,” Dugan said.

In addition, KVB will continue to invite credentialed media to Kauai for a health and wellness-focused visit in May, an “I Love Kauai” romance visit in September, and a cuisine, culture and arts focus in October. KVB finds that media are better advocates when they experience the island firsthand than to send out media blasts alone, he said.

In addition, KVB is sending staff to conventions on the Mainland to build relationships with Kauai.

“It’s been a wonderful year, and we are off to a great start for next year,” Dugan said.

Greg Askew, president of Deep Harbor Brands, which operates Big Green Egg, Bubble Shack Hawaii, and Ono Pops Hawaii, said island guests are as important a customer segment as the local population.

“I support KVB’s efforts to increase people visiting and enjoying the island, and I am hopeful they will be enjoying our products,” he said.

Tom Freeston, assistant golf pro at Princeville Makai Golf Club, said the Kauai courses are the hidden gems of Hawaii. 

“Even though we have a fantastic product we need an avenue like KVB to help support Kauai golf as well,” Freeston said. “All of these courses are struggling not to lose too much money.”

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