Let’s face it, the German-speaking travel market went from fourth place in Hawaii’s precious travel force to last under the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s tenure. The highest spending travel group and every world travel destination is targeting it but us. From 130,000 visitors per year, it plunged to 18,000 and only because no one within the Hawaii Visitor and Convention Bureau or the Hawaii Tourism Authority understands the importance of this market for Hawaii.

The average German-speaking traveler enjoys three paid vacations per year of at least two weeks each, three times a year. This group books in advance because of necessary adjustments in the working place. All major European Travel Organizations offer group deals one year in advance to adjust to such travel behavior and to be able to fill their special group deals … to be able to offer ”’today”’ a compatible price for one year ”’later.”’ These organizations buy large amounts of dollars in advance to stabilize any fluctuation in currency changes.

The importance of this travel group — it is not dependent on any staggering economies. Nor is it concerned of any possible war in Iraq. They will travel even during war. Even retirees are financially able to travel. There will be no war on U.S. soil. Germans are only concerned of security and safety. They utilize the German airline Lufthansa, New Zealand Airlines or Air Canada. They are very comfortable with that. Lufthansa connects with UA from L.A or S.F. The others fly direct to Hawaii with stopovers in Canada.

And then there is the former East Bloc. A population that has been deprived for over 50 years to travel the West. That group is longing to see the western world. There are 17 million former East Germans. There are a great number of German speaking people living in Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania. This group does not speak any English. It has learned Russian in school. This group is in great need of German-speaking services that are very limited or not at all available in our beautiful state.

Hawaii once enjoyed 130,000+ visitors from Austria, Switzerland and Germany. That established revenues of about $335 million, not counting expenditures for shopping and restaurants. But then the HTA came on board and failed to maintain this important market.

Before March of this year travel destinations for 2003/4 will be chosen for this travel group. Yet Hawaii has done nothing to encourage them to visit here. The results speak a clear message. An often over-looked fact is that the world largest tourism fair is held every year in Germany. It emphasizes the importance of said travel European group.

The World Travel Organization published demographics in February announcing the strongest traveler numbers in world history for 2002 and is predicting even an increase for 2003, despite war worries. But Hawaii is not getting its share. We are spending $31 million on tourism marketing, which is controlled by the HTA, an organization that recently complained, publicly, the HVCB is not spending it wisely.

And the HTA even publicly says it will cancel all advertisement for at least two months in case of war, the exact opposite of what should be done.

Now at the same time the Legislature offers $8 million in emergency funding for tourism. That may sound like an excellent idea, but the problem with that it is it will be wasted and spent ineffectively and unwisely. At the same time, the HTA chair, Rex Johnson, announced that not all of it is needed. Someone should tell him he needs every dime — if not more — to get tourism back on its feet.

On Feb. 21st the HTA announced that it had provided a $20,000 grant to a health firm to attract higher spending travelers to Hawaii, offering Spa and other health-oriented services.

This nonsense is mind-boggling when markets are neglected that could bring as much as $335+ million in revenues to Hawaii if only someone understood that market.

In truth I am elated that Ted Liu, the new director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and other highly qualified professional business personalities have joined Gov. Lingle to make true change happen, despite taking personal monetary cut backs. And despite having to deal with left overs from the Old Boy’s Club that still spend a lot of time throwing political boulders in progress’s path instead of concentrating on how to make things better for the state. Such incomprehensible and small-minded thinking is an insult to the voters who are very aware of such political games. The only one from that side of the political spectrum who is standing up for Hawaii is Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, and she should be applauded for that.

The Aloha spirit is a great thing. However, in times of economical difficulties we need minds in charge who finally understand business ”’and”’ Aloha … in that order.

Let’s target the former German-speaking East Bloc. Let’s target the former German-speaking West Bloc. New Zealand is the best example on what to do to get them. They are coming in large numbers because New Zealand has a working strategy to effectively invite them. And they are coming.

Let’s get true professionals in charge of tourism marketing, people who are quick to take the action necessary to target that market … now.

By the way, whatever happened to the planned appointment of a director for tourism?

”’Dieter Thate is general manager of Dieter’s Tours (est. 1993) and Kimapa Marketing (est. in 1982). He can be reached by email at:”’ mailto:mail@kimapa.com ”’or visit his Web site at:”’ http://www.kimapa.com

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