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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, February 5, 2002

Co-op advertising needed for tourism

By Carol Tsai
Retired entrepreneur living in Honolulu

Here we go again, always trying to do things the same old way and expecting different results.

Each new director of the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau was supposed to be the "leader with vision," but each was selected from the same old-boy network among people who have been in and out of Hawai'i tourism and politics forever.

It seems the only way Hawai'i knows how to fix failure is by throwing more money at it, a la the HVCB and Department of Education. We keep looking for a leader with a magic wand, but refuse to make necessary fundamental changes.

Every downturn in tourism causes the HVCB to spend tens of millions in emergency ads. The rationale is, "If we don't spend more, fewer will come." This logic is flawed and unsubstantiated.

Another ploy used to get more funding is to compare Hawai'i's advertising budget with countries that spend more than our tiny state. We should judge our effectiveness by dollars spent per visitor, and not by total expenditure.

A friend remarked, "Fortunately there is one thing that our government can't screw up, and that is the weather." So we will always be able to lure tourists to our shores.

In my travels around the world, even to remote desert towns like Urumqi and Turpan in China, I have not met anyone who doesn't know Hawai'i and who longs to take a trip here. But why is our visitor count down, while those for most other tourist destinations are up (before 9/11)? Do we need more generic advertising? Or do we need more effective advertising?

Instead of finding a "leader" to solve our problems, let's unleash the imagination of thousands of entrepreneurs by offering them a share of the budgeted $60 million for co-op advertising.

Businesses directly involved with tourists don't need to wait for outdated reports to know the changing tastes of visitors. They can respond quicker, cheaper and more efficiently. They can also target niche markets.

We won't have to pay for high overhead; we can leverage our tax dollars and allow each business to decide if and how it wants to promote tourism. Businesses can form partnerships with each other to provide attractive packages.

In order to implement this, the Hawai'i Tourism Authority needs only to set guidelines and let the free market test itself.