HONOLULU (eTN) – The recent failures of Aloha Airlines and ATA have forced Hawaii tourism official to the discussion table, a recent chat with Hawaii’s tourism liaison, Marsha Wienert, has revealed. Just who they are meeting with and what they are discussing have yet to be disclosed, however.
Below is part one of eTN’s exclusive interview with Wienert:
Nelson Alcantara: What do you foresee as the impact of the recent Aloha Airlines and ATA shutting down operations on Hawaii tourism besides the obvious change in airlift?
Marsha Wienert: Well, the obvious changes is, first and foremost, that any change that will happen, you know, tourism officials are doing everything they can to insure additional lift coming into the state from the domestic market, meaning that from US mainland. Lots of discussion in regards to needing to increase marketing efforts, to sustain and increase the demand for this great destination.
Alcantara: Accessibility is now a major issue for budget travelers, how does Hawaii tourism plan to address this if it all?
Wienert: The first discussions are just starting right now. I can’t give specifics in regards to what particular initiatives will be put in place. And I do not like to refer to them as budget travelers, those who are looking for an inexpensive trip to the islands would still be able to find them because of the wide variety of accommodations and activities that we have that are very reasonably priced.
Alcantara: There is fear among local travelers that airfares are going to skyrocket; can the Hawaii government do anything to prevent current carriers from exploiting the current situation?
Wienert: Number one, I don’t think that the airfares are being exploited right now. There is no question with ATA ceasing their service has a void for that lower price airfare, but in the research that we’ve done, the airfares are not increasing that much, to date.
Alcantara: But they could very well increase. Don’t you agree?
Wienert: I mean anything could happen. Anything could happen; I am not going to speculate on what yet. What we have to work on is what we are seeing happening today.
Alcantara: Is the Hawaii government planning to attract low-cost carriers to consider the Hawaii market? If so, what incentives is the government prepared to offer?
Wienert: We have a marketing program, coop program, that through the Hawaii Tourism Authority that we have had in place over the last few years. So it’s not new money what would be used. It may be increased funding that may be used. But, those discussions have just started in regards to what we will be doing.
Alcantara: In two week’s time, three airlines and now Frontiers Airlines last week filed for bankruptcy protection. What is your view of what is going on?
Wienert: We know how volatile the airline industry is today, and primarily it is because of the price of oil. The price of oil continues to increase every day and airline ticket prices are not increasing in the same level to offset the high expenses that the airlines have coming to the islands. That is probably the biggest challenge they have today is the cost of fuel.
Alcantara: In Aloha’s case, it is almost hard to believe they went bankrupt because the Hawaii market has been booming in the last few years. “Up to capacity” was how you described it the last time we chatted. What do you think happened there?
Wienert: I can’t speculate on the challenges were on their business plan.
Alcantara: But you do agree that Hawaii has been “up to capacity” in the last few years. So, it is almost a puzzle why Aloha went bankrupt.
Wienert: Well, a lot of their business were inter-island. They were a very small player in the trans-Pacific air seat, just about 4.5 percent of the total trans-Pacific flights that come into Hawaii. So, Aloha had a very small percentage of that market. Their primary business was inter-island travel. And with the increase in fuel, with more domestic carriers flying direct to the neighbor island and with the increase completion in the marketplace, I am sure added to the challenges that they had.
Alcantara: Being that we are from Hawaii, the human element of the recent Aloha Airlines closure really hits home. What is the Hawaii government doing to help former Aloha Airlines employees to help them with issues such as unemployment, jobseeking, and for some, health care?
Wienert: The Department of Labor and the Department of Human Services activated quickly their rapid response team. They had seminars and meetings in all of the islands within a few days after the airline shut down. And during those meetings that they had they were talking to employees about unemployment benefits and health benefits and so on and so forth, to educate them to what is available on the state level. Also, we assisted with various job fairs on each of the islands. City and county also as very progressive in putting together job fairs here on the islands of Oahu. So, the outreach from the state and county governments have been phenomenal in regards to trying to assist former employees in a very short period of time.
Alcantara: How have the former Aloha employees responded?
Wienert: They have responded very positively. Number one, just letting people know that state-level that we do care. Number two, they are surprised of the amount of the job opportunities in every different fields in our economy. And, of course, just having someone to talk to.
Alcantara: What about health care?
Wienert: The same thing, the Department of Human Services explaining what health care benefits are through the state and how to apply. So those types of things have been communicated to the employees.