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These Days Even Selling Hawaii Is Tough

Selling Hawaii could be considered the easiest job in the world.

"As I tell our team all the time, 'If we blow this job, I don't know what else we can sell,"' said Jay Talwar, vice president of marketing for the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau.

AP

But it hasn't been that easy lately. Hawaii and other tourism-dependent destinations have endured a perfect storm of challenges this year — from economic problems to swine flu fears — and have yet to recover.

Despite steep discounting and unprecedented deals being offered this year, the number of visitors to Hawaii fell by 8.2 percent through July. And the tourists who are coming are staying fewer days and spending less, resulting in an overall drop of $1.1 billion in visitor spending compared with the first seven months of 2008.

The slowdown in travel has forced industry officials to regroup, rethink, roll out new marketing strategies and revise projections. The Hawaii Tourism Authority, which has a $71 million budget for 2010, and its marketing partners will unveil some of their new plans and objectives Friday.

The agency is projecting about 6.7 million visitors in 2010, a 2 percent increase from the nearly 6.6 million forecast for this year. The 2010 estimate is still less than the 6.8 million in 2008, which followed the banner years in 2007 (7.4 million) and 2006 (7.5 million).

Hawaii is expected to see strong growth and demand from the untapped markets of South Korea and China, while other areas are projected to be relatively flat.

Among the new initiatives Hawaii is implementing is a plan to capture the fast-growing clean energy industry by luring meetings, trade shows and conventions to Hawaii. A new Web site is being launched Friday with information about initiatives in Hawaii, which is trying to become a leader in wind, wave, solar and thermal power. The nation's most fossil-fuel dependent state seeks to have at least 70 percent of its energy needs supplied by renewable sources by 2030.

"As a state, we're primed to showcase that to attendees," said Neil Mullanaphy, who represents the Hawaii Convention Center.

Hawaii also is partnering with China CITIC Bank, a major Chinese bank, in creating a Hawaii-themed credit card that will soon be available in the Asian nation. Card holders will receive perks when they travel to the islands.

The Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, which is charged with marketing Hawaii to North America, plans to continue with its advertising and public relations blitz in key West Coast markets. The campaign features island cuisine, music and culture. The first campaign was held in San Francisco in March, which tourism officials deemed a success.

About $3 million is being spent on a monthlong campaign in Los Angeles next month, while another event is planned in the Pacific Northwest during the fall.

"Obviously we have come through some extremely difficult times," said John Monahan, the bureau's president and chief executive. "The good news is that there's great demand still for Hawaii. The product is obviously strong, but with the unfortunate times we're facing, motivating people to travel and to spend once they're here is the most difficult part."

Monahan said one thing his agency is not changing is the demographic it is targeting -- an active visitor who enjoys golfing, cultural experiences, dining out and spa treatments.

"We have never dropped that focus the entire time," he said. "When we begin to recover, it will bode well for us."