Trouble in paradise


Hawaii tourism experienced its worst December on record since 9/11, new figures have revealed. According to recently-released figures, hotels in Hawaii saw a dip in hotel occupancy to 60.9 percent. A very close figure to the months following the September 11, 2001 attack, when in December of that year, the hotel occupancy in Hawaii’s hotels was 57.4 percent.

So, eTN turned to Hawaii’s tourism liaison, Marsha Wienert, to find out how Hawaii’s tourism officials are reacting to the new figures and to discuss other issues pertaining to Hawaii tourism. Keep on reading to find out what she had to say.

eTN: Marsha, sixty percent – the worst on record since 2001 – what are your thoughts?
Marsha Wienert: The reports in regards to occupancy for December is not unexpected. With all of the various challenges that the tourism industry is facing with the world economic conditions, we expected to have a lot of rooms available in the month of December and especially having rooms available during the holidays, which is really… we haven’t had that for a long time.

eTN: So this is something that you expected. How did you prepare for this?
Wienert: Let me step back a little bit, okay? The economic challenges and the tourism challenges that we faced in December are similar to what we have faced for many months in 08 and continue to face in 09. Those challenges are affected, of course, by the world economic challenges that are happening right now. Many different types of marketing programs have been implemented through 2008 to help reduce the decline, and I say help reduce the decline because the double-digit decreases are difficult to increase into a positive number, especially with the economic challenges going on in our base market in the US. So, many different programs were introduced to offset the decline or to lessen the decline. Someone said the other day, basically you’re putting the tourniquet on to ease the blood flow; it doesn’t stop the blood from being there. Anyway, many different programs were implemented. The hoteliers have fabulous value packages out there right now. If you look at some of the packages that are being promoted that include air and room and most of them a lot of different added value – free breakfast, that kind of stuff – their value of those packages, price wise, are better than it’s been in ages.

eTN: A void has been missing in the ATA market. What is Hawaii tourism doing to address this issue?
Wienert: I don’t think it has anything to do with ATA at this point. I don’t think it has anything to do with it, because we’ve got empty seats coming into the islands.

eTN: As far as the budget traveler who…
Wienert: Yeah, but when you can get four nights on the island of Oahu including airfare and hotel for US$400, that’s appealing to all types of travelers. So I don’t think that it has anything, not like I know, that the current situation has absolutely nothing to do with the loss of ATA or Aloha Airlines.

eTN: The reason why I bring this up is because I’ve been doing some research, and there is this company called Allegiant Air – are you familiar with them?
Wienert: I am.

eTN: Is there truth to the talk that Allegiant Air is coming into Hawaii?
Wienert: No, that’s not… Well, the way I understand it is that there are many different airlines looking at providing seats to the Hawaii market, but they are still just doing their due diligence because of the economic challenges that are being faced around the world, especially in the US. So as we move forward, we will continue discussions with all types of carriers in regards to whether it be a charter service, whether it be scheduled service, whether it be legacy carriers, non-legacy carriers – we will continue to discuss the need for additional seats into the marketplace.

eTN: What sort of incentives is the Hawaii government prepared to offer interested airlines?
Wienert: As of right now, we have, through the HTA [Hawaii Tourism Authority]… we have marketing coop dollars to assist in building the demand to fill the seats in the market that they are flying out of.

eTN: Going back to the sixty percent occupancy, how has this impacted employment?
Wienert: There’s been a lot of hours reduced, not just in the hotels, but in every business that is associated in any way, shape, or form with tourism, and that’s almost every business in the state of Hawaii. There have been layoffs, there have been hours cut, there have been businesses going out of business. When there’s a downturn in tourism, it affects the overall economy, and so many different things have been implemented by many different companies.

eTN: What is Hawaii tourism’s strategy in moving forward from the current situation it is in?
Wienert: The strategy is to keep the demand up there and to get it up there as aggressively as possible in our base market, which is North America, but also looking long-term, or mid-term, to some of the developing markets – Korea, China – as we move forward. So number one, to create short-term business, but more importantly to look at those developing markets so as we come out of the economic challenges that we face around the world, that we will be positioned in those marketplaces, is the benefit.

eTN: What has happened to the Japanese market, which used to be number one – are they still number one? What’s going on in that front?
Wienert: The number one foreign market. Japan is still a very important market to us here in Hawaii. Their numbers and outbound travel from Japan to Hawaii has decreased year over year over year. We finished last year at about 1.2 million, a little more than 1.2 million visitors from Japan. We are very hopeful that we will be able to increase those numbers as we move forward, realizing that Japan’s economy is also facing some challenges.

eTN: Have you done the research as to why the numbers are decreasing from Japan?
Wienert: There’s all kinds of reasons in regards to it. There are a lot of Japanese travelers that are going outbound, but they are staying closer to home. So Okinawa travel for Japanese to Okinawa is up, to Korea is up, so they are traveling, but they are traveling closer to home.

eTN: Intra-regional.
Wienert: Right.

eTN: What is the forecast for 2009 for Hawaii tourism?
Wienert: We expect to have a continued soft market in 09, and that softness is because of the economic challenges that everyone is facing, so we do expect to see continued softness in our base market.

eTN: Is Hawaii tourism prepared for the worst? Will it get better from here on, from your perspective, or will it get worse?
Wienert: Let’s just say that I am optimistic that there are many opportunities out there for us to increase tourism to our islands, however, 2009 will be a difficult year.

eTN: Hawaii Tourism Association has created quite a noise. Any thoughts on this issue?
Wienert: No. I’m not sure how to answer that question.

eTN: That’s fair enough. What can the global travel and tourism expect from Hawaii tourism in the coming months?
Wienert: What can the global travel and tourism industry expect from Hawaii? I don’t understand that question either. What do you mean, what can they expect?

eTN: What do you intend to do as far as marketing? Are you intending to go to ITB, will you be attending fairs?
Wienert: I don’t have that information. You would have to talk with the Hawaii Tourism Authority and/or our marketing contractors. I will tell you that from our base market and the Japanese market, our marketing programs will be out there. The value of those programs are better than ever in regards to what the offerings are, and we are hopeful that travelers or those that are thinking about traveling, will understand the value that we have here in Hawaii, especially now, and we invite everyone to come visit.

eTN: Will there be any sort of legislation in place to help the Hawaii tourism industry?
Wienert: There’s a lot of bills over in the legislature right now. It’s early in the session, so we don’t know exactly what will happen, so it’s too premature to even talk about it.