- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

LIHUE, Hawaii (AP) - The Marne family of Missoula, Montana arrived on Kauai for a week-long stay, and David Marne said skipping out on the snow was a main motivation for the family’s sandy getaway.

“It’s warm and quiet and Mexico has a bad rap, though I’m not really sure what it’s like in the more touristy areas over there,” Marne said. “Hawaii’s an easy shot from Montana, and we like it.”

That’s exactly what Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, has been aiming for: overcoming the state’s biggest competitors in the tourism industry, and promoting Kauai’s warm weather during the winter.

“At this time of year, we’re getting info out (about Kauai’s warm weather),” Kanoho said. “It’s a year-round thing. Right now, we’re marketing for those cold areas.”

Top travel destination:

Hawaii has once again been named a top vacation spot. The competition, however, is strong and the Hawaii Tourism Authority is still finding new ways to lure in visitors.

The islands were recently listed among dozens of other destinations in a recent Associated Press article that interviewed various industry players on their top travel picks.

“Tourism is a globally competitive business and the numerous destinations recommended is proof of how many viable choices worldwide are available to travel consumers,” said Kanoho. “It’s gratifying to see Hawaii listed several times, as interest in travel to all the islands will be encouraged.”

According to Randy Baldemor, CEO of HTA, the state is enjoying its fourth straight year of record-setting visitor arrivals and expenditures, and the forecast for 2016 suggests the chance for further growth.

“A record number of air seats are serving Hawaii, and our air access network is extremely diverse,” Baldemor said. “To achieve these results, it’s a collaborative effort involving HTA’s partners and contractors as well as the Hawaii tourism industry at large.”

Counting up the cash:

Annually, the state dedicates $82 million in base funding for the Tourism Special Fund. That money comes from Transient Accommodations Tax revenue, according to Baldemor.

The main areas for marketing are North America, Japan, China, Europe, Korea, Latin America, Oceania and Taiwan. In 2016, the organization will also be setting its sights on Southeast Asia.

The KVB received $1.5 million from HTA for January through December 2015.

Kauai County also provides funding to the KVB. For each of the past two fiscal years, which run from July 1 to June 30, KVB received $225,000.

Nalani Kaauwai Brun, program administration officer for the county’s office of economic development, said the office works with KVB to create an annual budget, which can be adjusted throughout the year with the approval of both entities.

“The county funding is meant to be used for programs not funded by the HTA, and for programs that the county and KVB feel (Kauai) may be losing out on, or if we need more flexibility so that we can adjust when opportunity comes knocking,” Brun said.

Sizing up the competition:

For Hawaii, the biggest competitors are Mexico, California, Tahiti and the Bahamas.

“Now, Vietnam is up and coming and getting a lot of attention,” Kanoho said.

Competition is compounded by the fact that the Hawaiian Islands are pitted against each other for their visitors. Maui is the biggest competition out of the islands, according to Kanoho.

“We’re like competitive brothers and sisters,” Kanoho said. “Each island has its own feel and story, so which island speaks to you?”

A bigger roadblock for Hawaii, though, is that much of the tourism base is aging, and the younger generation is looking for something new.

“The point I keep making is that those who use to love us for who we are, are getting older and not traveling as much,” Kanoho said. “The younger generation has a been-there-done-that mindset.”

That mentality is sending people to destinations that their parents didn’t visit.

Standing out from the crowd

With so many choices, it’s easy to see the challenge of bringing the spotlight to Kauai, but Kanoho said the island’s assets make it more attainable.

“It’s not hard when you have the beauty and the people of Kauai,” Kanoho said. “There’s only one Na Pali Coast. There’s only one Waimea Canyon. There’s only one Kilauea Lighthouse.”

Marketing kismet moments is another of the ways that Kauai is being promoted.

In a Hawaii Convention and Visitors Bureau video promoting the island, a story is told about happenstance meetings between visitors and locals at small gatherings and markets. The campaign is called “Let Hawaii Happen” and there are videos online for every island.

“We make it clear that we’re rural and a slower pace and we promote the natural beauty,” Kanoho said. “On Kauai, we have really great farmers’ markets, local products, and Kauai Made.”

Education is the other key to marketing each individual island. Kanoho said research conducted by the HCVB showed that many people, particularly located East of the Rocky Mountains, don’t know much about the islands.

“We’ve been focusing on educating the basics of the Hawaiian Islands,” Kanoho said. “Someone thought there was an Island of Kona, for example. So, (we’re looking at) people who have never been, or know very little about the islands.”

Economic impact:

Visitors are important to many businesses on Kauai. Milton Ozaki, owner of Robert’s Jewelry in Lihue, said visitors account for about half of his business.

“Visitors probably end up spending more dollars, because they only have this one chance,” Ozaki said. “They don’t get to come back and think about it, but both visitors and locals are very important.”

Ozaki said, in his experience, the trend in tourism is cyclical. Over the past five years, he said, he’s watched the numbers fluctuate.

“This past year was really good,” Ozaki said. “We have had more visitors, but it goes up and down.”

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Information from: The Garden Island, https://thegardenisland.com/

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