- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

HONOLULU - Newlyweds Ty and Kirschel Vollebregt considered their home state of California as well as Mexico and Europe when deciding where to spend their dream honeymoon. After weighing everything from cost and convenience to distance and drinks, they agreed on Hawaii.

“We wanted the beach. We wanted to lay around. We wanted fruity drinks with umbrellas,” said Kirschel Vollebregt.

The couple from Dana Point, Calif., are among millions of Americans flocking to Hawaii in record numbers this year. Besides the refreshing mai tais, tourism experts say the boom can be explained in part by global unrest, which has persuaded many Americans to seek exotic travel destinations within U.S. borders.

Safety has become a key consideration for globe-trotting Americans.

“We used to say that the motivations for tourists were sea, sun and sand. … The three new S’s are safety, security and sanitation,” said Walter Jamieson, dean of the School of Travel Industry Management at the University of Hawaii.

A recent study commissioned by the state found that “safety-security” was the most important factor for Americans choosing a destination. Value and clean environment were second.

“People are looking for something different; at the same time, they want the sense of security that goes with traveling within the United States,” Mr. Jamieson said.

The Hawaii Marketing Effectiveness Study also showed that Hawaii’s image as a safe destination was among the state’s strengths, along with scenery and clean environment and being a great place to get away.

“I have no desire to go [abroad] at all. In fact, I don’t want to even go to Canada anymore,” said Steve DeMeyer of Phoenix, who was recently lounging on Waikiki Beach. “I’m happy with America.”

“There’s no question Hawaii is benefiting greatly from sentiments of wanting to travel within the U.S., rather than internationally,” said Marsha Weinert, the state’s tourism liaison.

The 50th state, with its own unique culture, language and history, offers tourists the international experience they are seeking, she said.

“Still in the United States and protected by Homeland Security, but we’re still far away and exotic,” said John Monahan, president and chief executive of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau.

Tourists seem to agree.

“I know I’m still technically still in the States, but I feel I left the country, which is nice,” said honeymooner Patrick Colgan, of Seattle. “That does offer something California doesn’t.”

Mr. Colgan said he even enjoys vowel-heavy Hawaiian words.

“Give me a 37-letter word with one consonant. I love it,” he said.

Hawaii is on pace this year to exceed 7 million visitors for the first time. Hawaii welcomed a record 3.6 million visitors in the first half of the year, 7 percent more than the first six months of 2004.

Some of the events that have curbed international travel by Americans include the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the recent subway bombings in London, December’s deadly tsunamiin Southeast Asia, the SARS epidemic in Asia, the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, the U.S.-led war in Iraq and the dollar’s weakness against foreign currencies, especially the euro.

The University of Hawaii professor said the tsunamis have been “disastrous” for tourism in areas such as Sri Lanka and Thailand. Bali also has struggled to attract tourists since the bombings there.

“People tend to stay closer to home when things get a little hectic out there,” said Wendy Goodenow, president of the Hawaii chapter of the American Society of Travel Agents.

Hawaii has benefited by taking several measures to assure safety and a quick and effective response if something did happen.

“Hawaii is a model — the [Pacific] Tsunami Warning Center, excellent warning systems for hurricanes, good first-responder services,” Mr. Jamieson said. “This whole level of providing assurance is important.”

Officials in Hawaii acknowledge that the travel boom could end in an instant. The fragile tourism industry is very susceptible to global events — from terrorism to soaring oil prices.

“One destination’s misfortune can be positive for another one, and we’re clearly an example of that,” Mr. Jamieson said. “But those same forces can work the other way.”

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