How Will the United / Continental Merger Impact Hawaii Tourism?

This weekend marks one of the final steps in the merger between United Airlines and Continental Airlines. While agents and passengers can go back and forth for years over the merits of the merger and what it will mean for domestic and international travel, at least one U.S. tourism board is keeping a careful eye on the combined airline and its bottom line.

David Uchiyama, vice president of brand marketing at the Hawaii Tourism Authority, told Travel Agent that the merger will "definitely have an impact" for Hawaii's tourism scene. United now flies directly from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Hilo on Hawaii Island, and will soon launch nonstop flights from Washington, D.C. to Honolulu. "It may create opportunities for us, as long as we can maintain the demand and they can yield appropriately for their routes. United and Continental have long been supporters of Hawaii, and now I think the destination needs to step up and support the carriers." To that end, he says, the HTA has allied with tour operators and retail agents that support United. "We will work with them on cooperative advertising to support the routes." He also notes that the HTA will pay careful attention to United's load factors to make sure that they don't make the same mistake they made with Aloha Airlines and ATA. "They were struggling and we didn't know," he says.

Uchiyama does acknowledge that the merger will pose "a slight inconvenience" for travel agents who have to switch flight codes for their clients, but, he adds, "the overall impact will be beneficial to the agent community.

At least one agent disagrees: Bruce Fisher, owner of Hawaii Aloha Travel, says that the merger "is not good for consumers, [and is] mostly just a big hassle." He feels that it will mean "higher prices and [fewer] choices" for passengers.

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