Hawaii Confronts Tourism Challenges

HONOLULU—The 2007 Hawaii Tourism Conference, held at the Honolulu Convention Center August 28-29, attracted 772 attendees—a big jump over last year's number of 540. Other statistics aren't quite as wonderful for the Aloha State: Hotel occupancy has slid 6 percent to 74.6 percent in the first six months of 2007, and arrivals figures fell by 0.8 percent in June. The newly launched Hawaii Superferry has temporarily ceased operations

"We have challenges ahead," said Rex Johnson, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, in his opening remarks. "We need to develop fresh products, revisit how we are serving our guests, discover emerging trends and understand the competition we face."

One of these fresh products is the Hawaii Superferry, which connects the Hawaiian islands by sea and presents an alternative to inter-island flights. The ferry debuted last week and instead of celebrations, the Hawaii Superferry was met by protestors on the islands of Maui and Kauai, effectively shutting down inter-island service because of public safety concerns.

Agent Information About the Superferry

During a seminar at the conference, Ward Yamashiro, passenger sales manager for Hawaii Superferry, provided information for travel agents that will apply once the service is back up and running. Although Hawaii Superferry does not pay commissions, it has made arrangements with two wholesalers—Portland-based All About Travel and Honolulu-based Panda Travel, Inc. Both companies will pay agents commissions based on volume. Keep It Hawaii Award Winners

At this time, three car rental companies—Dollar, Hertz and Thrifty—are working with Hawaii Superferry to allow the movement of rental cars between islands. Yamashiro acknowledged that there have been some bouts of seasickness in passengers. He advises those prone to seasickness to take precautionary medicine the night before the transit, and once again in the morning. "Down the line we will have GDS capability and travel agent incentives, but right now it's not a priority," said Yamashiro.

During a luncheon hosted by Travel Agent, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle counseled Hawaii's tourism community to take a step back and assess what is needed, and not to necessarily create additional attractions to lure visitors. "We have the real Magic Kingdom right here in Hawaii," she said.

A luncheon on the second day of the conference featured a panel discussion from some of Hawaii's top visitor industry leaders. While discussing the year in review and the outlook for 2008, several topics rose to the forefront.

Tourism numbers, including arrivals and occupancy through the rest of 2007, are predicted to be flat or soft. Sun and sand destinations Mexico and the Caribbean will continue to be Hawaii's main competition, especially as they continue to cut prices. On the retail side, agents can expect to see more packages built around shopping, such as shop and spa and shop-and-dine packages.

"Business from the west coast to Hawaii is problematic," said Jack E. Richards, president and CEO, Pleasant Holidays. Richards noted that Pleasant Holidays was ahead of last year in advance bookings until sub-prime lending prices hit. "Bookings have slowed down considerably and our view is it's not over, and we're waiting for the other shoe to drop," he said. "Secondly, we're seeing airfares into mid-2008 going up 10 to 15 percent and ADRs at our hotels going up, and that is not a good sign."