As part of our "Five Questions with..." series, we chat with George D. Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), about everything from the state of Airbnb in Hawaii to the destination's ongoing efforts to attract the LGBT market.
Here's what he had to say:
1. How important is it for Hawaii tourism to have Airbnb meet the same safety regulations and other requirements as hotels?
Our position is that Airbnb, or any provider of alternative accommodations, must adhere to the same requirements expected of Hawaii’s hotels and resorts.
Everyone should operate legally, pay their fair share of taxes and provide services our guests expect when being on vacation. A visitor is a visitor, and regardless of whether they are staying in a four-star resort or renting a cottage, they need to have access to the same essential services and information.
Visitors staying in alternative accommodations should have all information, phone numbers, and resources available if emergency help was needed or in the rare case that a natural disaster was to strike. Safety is of foremost concern because it’s imperative we take care of our guests and leave them with a positive experience about Hawaii.
2. Hawaii recently released one of the most comprehensive studies on the LGBT market that Travel Agent has ever seen a destination perform. Please tell us a little about the study. What does this say about the destination's desire to fully tap into this market?
We commissioned studies of LGBT travelers from six markets, the U.S., Canada, China, Australia, Japan and Taiwan. We released the findings for the first four markets in mid-March, with the findings for Japan and Taiwan coming out soon.
We initiated these studies so that our tourism industry partners would have a better understanding about the preferences and profiles of LGBT travelers and how they could customize their own marketing and services accordingly.
We felt that having this knowledge would increase our partners’ awareness of how they can attract a larger segment of the LGBT travel market and be sensitive to their desires and needs when traveling abroad. The feedback from our partners about the information gained from these studies has been very positive.
3. What is the most challenging obstacle in Hawaii tourism today? Price? Airlift?
Hawaii’s resorts are fantastic, but if visitors venture out around the islands and into our communities and amidst nature, they also get a clear sense of how memorable and personal one can make their time in the Hawaiian Islands.
Our unique way of life, the Hawaiian culture, the multi-ethnic diversity, and, most of all, the time-honored aloha spirit and welcoming sense of hospitality is what makes coming to the Hawaiian Islands such a remarkable experience. Once Millennials get here, they love the authenticity that comes with exploring the islands.
4. Where is your favorite place to travel and why?
I’m always up for a golfing stay-cation somewhere in Hawaii, but when I vacation outside the islands, the place I really enjoy going to is Alaska.
I’ve been there a dozen times and love the outdoors, fishing and the magnificent scenery. It always feels like the last frontier to me and is such an escape from anywhere else that I go.
5. Where are you off to next? Any personal info or news you’d like to share?
In July, I’ll be going to Colorado for the CEO Chairman’s Circle being hosted by the U.S. Travel Association. It will be a good opportunity to compare notes and address the future of travel.
Want more “Five Questions with…” stories? Check out a recent feature we did on Turks and Caicos hotelier, Karen Whitt, by clicking here.