July Launch for Hawaii Inter-island Ferry

Hawaii Superferry executives planned to spend last weekend in Alabama, christening the first of two ships slated to offer inter-island ferry service between Oahu and Kauai, Maui and the Big Island.  Hawaii clients will soon be able to travel among the islands by ferry

The company in March cleared a state legislative hurdle and likely will begin selling tickets for its Oahu-Kauai and Oahu-Maui routes next month, with operations beginning in July. Travel to the BigIsland is scheduled to begin in 2009.

The ferry service will be one of a kind in Hawaii, giving travelers the opportunity to explore the islands with cars, surfboards and bicycles all in tow. It enters a competitive inter-island travel market, where battling airlines have pushed one-way fares to $29.

Price will not be the Superferry's selling point. Standard fares for the three-hour excursion will run from $42 to $60 one way, with a $20 upgrade available for passengers wishing to enjoy a panoramic view from the foredeck lounge. Cars and SUVs will cost an additional $55 to $65, while cyclists will pay between $20 and $25 to transport bikes.

The marketing campaign centers instead around the beauty of a sea-based approach and the convenience of arriving with adventure gear already in place.

"This is going to be a new experience," says Terry O'Halloran, director of business development. "A way to get between the islands with a different perspective. The visitor travel market is one we think is going to be important for us."

That market brings logistical considerations the company has yet to resolve. Plans for working with travel wholesalers, agents and rental car companies are in the works, O'Halloran says.

The company still faces some calls for an environmental impact statement.

The first ship completed sea trials from its Alabama harbor last week, O'Halloran says. The approximately 350-foot vessel has the capacity to hold 866 passengers and 282 cars.

Time will determine the success of the service, Hawaii tourism representatives say.

"It's an additional product you can put in your marketing quiver," says Rex Johnson, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. "It'll be interesting to see how much people use it."

The Superferry in May will begin taking reservations at 877.HIFERRY or www.hawaiisuperferry.com.

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