Hawaii entrusts tourism marketing to a group rooted in local culture

Skift grip

By choosing a community-focused nonprofit to help shape Hawaii’s tourism marketing, the state’s tourism authority made a bold statement, severing a century-old relationship with the Convention and Visitors Bureau. . It’s controversial, but it’s the hard way to redefine the future of tourism.

Dawit Habtemariam

The pandemic has been cathartic for so many tourism-dependent destinations, perhaps none more so than Hawaii.

In fall 2020, nearly two-thirds of state residents surveyed said they did not want visitors to return to the islands, despite high unemployment among local tourism workers sidelined by the pandemic. . It was telling for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, or HTA, the state agency that conducted the investigation, of growing concerns about overtourism and how disconnected locals felt from being part of the tourism process.

Fast forward nearly two years later. In early June, the community awarded a multi-year contract to the Council for the Advancement of Native Hawaiians, a local nonprofit, to help market the islands in the United States. The contract is due to expire in December 2024 and is worth $34 million. One of the aspects of the contract is also the management of the destination.

“What the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement has done is build a group of marketing organizations that have supplemented their ability to work with the community,” said Frank Haas, president of Marketing Management, a consulting firm. hotel marketing consultant who advised the board on its winning proposal and is part of the transition team.

In the restless world of politics among tourism players within states, whether the authority chose the group over the winner of the inherited contract, the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, was incredibly significant, if not a historic change. The bureau, which has done marketing for the state for more than a century and is backed by the hotel and airline industries, now protesting against the decision. ETS extended his current contract until September 28 to settle the event.

The new partnership with the council represents Hawaii’s latest step toward implementing a “locals first” approach to tourism, a move that Skift has highlighted for 2022 as a megatrend.

“What I’m aware of now is that communities are watching the visitor industry carefully,” said De Fries, CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. “About 10 years ago, my predecessor could walk into a room of industry colleagues and everyone would pat each other on the back. Now when I enter a space, I am aware that the community is there.

In years past, the tourism industry was very insular, DeFries pointed out, with suppliers like hotels and airlines being the primary stakeholders with the biggest voices at the table.

Residents are now encouraged to have a say in how tourism works on the islands. This comes as Hawaii’s tourism industry continues to recover from the pandemic. According to Hawaiian Tourism Authority.

As tourism picks up, one of the main goals will be to attract spendthrift but observant visitors. The conscious visitor “wants to come and experience culture, activities and attractions that are unique to Hawaii and respectful of sacred places and the natural environment,” Haas said. The CNHA intends to use big data, analytics and other new tools to target this group and move away from mass marketing, according to Haas.

Another aspect of the shift to a people-centric approach has been the embrace of so-called regenerative tourism. Preserving Hawaii’s natural resources and rich culture for future generations is a key goal for HTA. “The regenerative model is important to us at HTA because it primarily models our ancestral teaching as Native Hawaiians,” De Fries said.

Ensuring that visitors do no harm is essential. Visitors are educated on the concept of malama, which means “to protect, nurture, and care for,” according to De Fries. Examples include educating travelers not to leave hiking trails to enter private property, litter, or touch wildlife.

According to a visitor satisfaction survey in the first quarter of this year by the state’s Department of Economic Development, Business and Tourism (DBEDT), which operates the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Visitors are encouraged to give back to communities. Last year, the authority launched malama hawaii. Under this program, visitors can volunteer for a community improvement project and receive a special discount or a free night at a participating hotel. “The feedback we’re getting is great,” De Fries said. “We’re looking at ways to refine it and scale it.”

But Malami Hawaii still has a long way to go. At least 85% of visitors from the western United States and eastern United States said they did not recall specifically hearing or seeing Malami Hawaii before or during their trip, according to DBEDT. visitor satisfaction survey.

“Hawaii has the curse of a strong brand. When you say Hawaii to anyone in the world, they say palm trees, beautiful beaches and great weather,” Haas said. people all over the world. Changing that takes resources, effort and time. It’s actually quite a big task.

To achieve its ambitions, the Hawaii Tourism Authority faces a formidable obstacle: a hostile legislature. Last year, the Hawaiian legislature, after overriding the governor’s veto, passed a bill that cut the tourism authority’s budget from $79 million to $60 million, removed its exemption from government procurement and eliminated its dedicated funding source: the transit accommodation tax.

The tourism authority had to rely on funds from last year and federal money. This year, the legislature passed on operating appropriations to the agency in a capital improvement projects bill. The governor has said he will veto it and once again reallocate money from federal funds to the tourism authority. There remains the possibility of the legislature overriding the governor’s veto as it did last year.

No one said defining new tourism models would be easy.