HONOLULU (eTN) – The panic button in Hawaii tourism has been pressed. That button amounts to the tune of $3 million, which the Hawaii Tourism Authority calls the “Emergency Tourism Fund.”
Word that such a “fund” even existed circulated on Oahu, and with fuel prices skyrocketing, some were obviously not happy. Local residents are in a state of disbelief after word that such a thing called the “Hawaii Tourism Emergency Fund” even existed. One local radio personality, who rambled about it on her morning show said, “What were they thinking? Maybe they should use that fund to help us little guys deal with the skyrocketing fuel prices instead.”
Considering that it wasn’t that long ago when Hawaii tourism officials proudly proclaimed that “Hawaii is full to capacity,” this year has been turning out to be a bad year for Hawaii tourism so far. Just in recent months, Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Pride of Hawaii has stopped sailing the islands and Pride of America is expected to follow suit.
What’s going on in the cruising market? “Pride of Hawaii has left the Hawaii market. Pride of America is scheduled to leave next, leaving Pride of Aloha and our home-ported ships here on the Hawaiian islands,” Hawaii tourism liaison Marsha Wienert said.
She added, “We haven’t had a very healthy cruise environment from both the US flagships here and in our foreign cruise lines. We are very optimistic in regards to that particular sector of the visitor industry and are working with them closely.”
The Hawaii Superferry seems do be doing pretty well. How does the Hawaii tourism liaison feel about the Hawaii Superferry’s presence in the islands? Wienert said, “I think it allows the visitors, as well as residents, to move between the islands. I have been on it, and it is a great sail from Honolulu to Maui. Thoroughly enjoyed it. I think it is a nice addition to our products and adds a different type of means of travel between the islands.”
From her point of view as Hawaii’s tourism liaison, why does Wienert think that there was such resistance from some islanders to get the Hawaii Superferry service going? “The first thing would be fear of change in the islands and not knowing all of the facts. There is a minority that has raised a lot of concerns in regard to the Superferry. The Superferry is addressing those concerns – whether it be infection, whether it be traffic congestion.”
Wienert thinks that there’s a large part of the community that was very supportive and continues to be supportive of an alternative means of travel between the islands. She said, “Some of the concerns that were being raised have been addressed. People are seeing that there isn’t much increase in traffic, that there is an inspection process for alien species. Many now understand that those measures were put in place.”
Meanwhile, adding to the challenge of losing a big chunk of the cruising market is the loss of Aloha Airlines and ATA, which has had an impact on airfares to and from Hawaii. So, why are tourism officials keen on luring visitors when tourists already know about Hawaii and what the destination so often referred to as “paradise” is all about? That perception is out there. Is there is a need to further build Hawaii’s image? Shouldn’t the focus be on solving the airlift problem and fill the void from the loss in the cruising market?
Last month when we spoke to Hawaii tourism liaison Marsha Wienert, she was mum about the issues being discussed to deal with the closure of Aloha and ATA airlines. She then said, “The first discussions are just starting right now. I can’t give specifics. The fast push for more marketing in key areas has great potential.”
Whether the recently unveiled tourism emergency fund was one of the issues being discussed then is uncertain, but “The $3 million will help us to increase the bookings that we have for the summer months,” Wienert told The Honolulu Advertiser.
In addition to dealing with the challenges from the cruise industry and airline closures, Hawaii’s tourism liaison has been tasked to address a report by AAA citing the Aloha state as “the most expensive state in which to vacation.” From her point of view, Wienert said she believes that AAA’s report claiming that the average cost of a Hawaiian vacation for two people is $793 a day for food and lodging alone was based on the published hotel room prices.
She countered AAA’s report by citing state data showing that visitors spent $181.60 per person per day in 2007.
So, where does Hawaii look like it is heading this year? “We are currently projecting a 1.4 percent decrease due to the decrease in the two cruise ships that were here in the market along with uncertainties and the Japan market place.”
When asked whether that figure includes the recent Aloha and ATA airlines closures, Wienert said, ”We are going to be looking at that. We have not factored that into the numbers as of yet.”
Ultimately, however, the perception of those who have traveled to Hawaii is what matters. Who should the blame on the declining number of visitors to Hawaii be laid upon? A frequent traveler to Hawaii, who posted a response to the emergency tourism fund story under the name “Urie1″in The Honolulu Advertiser’s website, had this to say about the current situation in Hawaii tourism, “I was married in 1977 and spent my honeymoon in Hawaii. Since then my wife and I have returned every year until 2006. That year we endured your great sewage spill. We also endured your smoking ban and took the last insult we could from hotel employees and local people. What does a tourist do? They work hard all year, save their money and desire a great place to go. They want to enjoy the local people, eat a good meal and sun on the beach. We are not bad people! It will take much more than the Hawaii Tourism Authority to get me back. What I have read in The Advertiser [newspaper] over the last few weeks has me wondering where the aloha spirit has gone. I, like many of you, wish we could go back to 1977 when times were simple. Don’t blame me. Look at the government.”