Don’t Rock The Boat

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Although we are fortunate to enjoy the long awaited political change, it appears that no real change has yet occurred. At least not what I had anticipated. We read a lot about it — still — in the media but where is it? Or should I ask what is it?

Tourism is Hawaii’s most important industry to generate revenues. Tourism is down and what are we doing about it? First it was 09/11; now it’s the war. What exactly is Hawaii doing with $61 million per year to support the Tourism Industry? No one asks that the state is doing it alone. The industry works hard and takes enormous risks and is diligently trying to bring travelers to Hawaii.


The industry expects to be supported by the budget that the state has set aside to support them. But that doesn’t really happen. Or does it? In times when business is good the state’s marketing seed should be planted that can be harvested in down times. To just point to negative results and analyzing them with excuses but without being able to influence the outcome in the first place should tell us that Hawaii is lacking the experts that are so badly needed

What exactly have those state authorities done — in advance of the war — to implement strategies to offset traveler’s fears? The Japanese Market is down for some time. Not because of the war but because of changing traveler’s expectations and Japan’s own sluggish economy.

Groups running behind, flag-waving Japanese tour guides seem unpopular and individualism and activities are in. Have we — Hawaii — noticed? May be but I can’t see it. Are we willing or able to notice? Do we need more attractions? How are visitors greeted at first sight, at the airport? Do they feel our most valuable marketing tool we have, the ALOHA spirit? What do other competing travel destinations do differently that they have record arrival numbers, also from Japan, compared with previous years and despite the war?

Shouldn’t Hawaii have the experts who know what to do? On Sunday, April 6, 2003, I read in the ”’Honolulu Advertiser”’ a statement that puzzles me. Frank Haas, the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Marketing Director, said this: “Well, there’s a very large segment of the (Japanese) industry here that as a state agency we have an obligation to. To just abandon a market, I think, would be ill-advised.”

No one recommended abandoning the Japanese market. Instead to focus on priorities, on strategies that work and to focus on more promising markets such as the U.S. mainland and Europe. We pay outrageously high salaries to the officials of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. For example there is Rex Johnson, its chair, who makes $240,000 per year.

This is mind boggling because the Hawaii Tourism Authority, HTA, is part of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, DBEDT, and its director, Theodore Liu, makes only $85,000 per year. And the chief of the state, Gov. Lingle only makes around $95,000 per year. I am confused.

Sixty-five percent of our arrivals come from the U.S. mainland. That number should justify tremendous efforts to increase and maintain powerful marketing. Even more since world travel for U.S. citizen has been limited because of our engagement in the Middle East. Let’s not just sit there and enjoy increasing arrivals without our input. What would be the arrival numbers if we had powerful strategies in place that address the war and travel fears.

We should divert part of our marketing efforts and budget to countries that would visit Hawaii if we can assure them that Hawaii is ”’safe.”’ And to emphatically point out that no incidents have occurred since the saddening 09/11 events that should prevent travelers from visiting Hawaii as one of the last true remaining tropical paradises.

Does Hawaii have intelligent strategies that could address Europe and the U.S. mainland? I am sorry but I can’t see that.

Marketing and public relations seem so easy that almost everyone likes to talk about it and to offer own ideas, strategies and advise. However this is a profession that takes skills, knowledge, expertise and specific training and continued education. And it is categorized in different fields. There is a ”’big”’ difference if I address marketing issues for certain industries or tourism, especially Hawaii’s.

A Mercedes engineer is lost working on a BMW. However both are highly skilled experts in their fields. Does Hawaii have skilled and knowledgeable experts who understand the diversified mentalities, cultural differences and most of all the expectations of our target markets?

Let’s be honest, in times when revenues are down and the main revenue maker of our precious state is behind, we should expect tremendous efforts by our industry support team. That is just not there.

So what exactly and how is the Hawaii Tourism Authority using its expertise and budget to support Tourism? After all it is still, and will remain, for some time to come the state’s number one income producer.

”’Dieter Thate is owner of Dieter’s Tours (est. 1993) and Kimapa Marketing (est. 1982). He can be reached by email at:”’ ”’or visit his Web site at:”’