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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Hawai'i: exciting and safe

By Kelly Yamanouchi and Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writers

Hawai'i's tourism industry may be sluggish but it already is benefiting from a trend among travelers seeking safe destinations closer to home, according to travel industry experts gathered for the group's annual convention in Honolulu this week.

Some travel agents said yesterday that more of their clients are asking about trips to the Islands because the prospect of war with Iraq and continued terrorism in areas such as Bali has made them want to stay in the United States.

"We've really seen an upswing" as travelers look for domestic destinations, said Delores Turman, a travel agent from Travel Network in Loveland, Colo. "They want to come here for their honeymoon, whereas it used to be Mexico or the Caribbean."

On the second day of the American Society of Travel Agents World Congress, Hawai'i officials sought to capitalize on that trend and emphasized the safety of the Islands to the more than 3,000 agents assembled.

"Global conditions have pretty much changed the way tourism is going to go. ... People recognize Hawai'i as a destination that is high in security," Gov. Ben Cayetano told the group at the Hawai'i Convention Center. "I can tell you that Hawai'i is very, very safe."

Dianne Moore, part-owner of Vacations Plus in Wisconsin said her clients around the Milwaukee suburb of New Berlin, want to go someplace exciting. But the Sept. 11 attacks, along with the new prospect of war with Iraq, has made many want that exciting place to be close to home.

For Moore's customers, that means Alaska, Mexico, the Caribbean and Hawai'i. Hawai'i bookings alone have gone up 10 percent in each of the last three years, she said.

"People are staying with the tried and true," Moore said.

Cella Baker, international trade manager for the Alaska Travel Industry, said travelers for 2003 want "an exotic, safe destination that's not too far away. I'm still hearing safe. I'm still hearing unique."

Ron Krueger, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Pleasant Holidays, said travelers are still hesitant to spend a lot on vacations but that "like Hawai'i, the closer locations will do well." About 70 percent of Pleasant Holidays' business is travel to Hawai'i.

Krueger warned that other destinations including Las Vegas, Mexico and the Caribbean are investing heavily in advertising.

"It's very competitive right now," Krueger said. Hawai'i "probably needs to be a little bit more visible on the Mainland. The other destinations are really doing a lot of marketing."

Still, he said Hawai'i is "doing OK. It's considered still an economically reasonable place, very safe and desirable." He said more Pleasant Holidays customers are going to O'ahu this year because packages are less expensive.

Some competitors for visitors' dollars also benefit from being close to home for Mainlanders. Miami's tourism industry, for example, can benefit from the trend toward domestic destinations because its chief competition is the Caribbean.

"People don't want to go out of the country," said Linda Stilmann, director of sales for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. She said hotel rates are slowly increasing again, but that people continue to look for bargains.

Canada is also drawing more visitors who are reluctant to fly.

"It's been a good year for Canada," said Canadian Tourism Commission director of leisure travel sales U.S.A. Thomas Karins. For many Americans, "Canada is a safe destination and it's close to home."

Visitors to Canada were typically within a three-hour drive, but since September 2001, the country has seen more visitors driving from cities six to eight hours away, and from as far away as New York City.

"The whole Quebec and Montreal area has done very, very well," Karins said.

Many competing destinations — such as Hong Kong — are working hard to attract visitors. Hong Kong is targeting baby boomers and has used information from a survey on U.S. visitor interests to create attractions and find local volunteers to run them.

The country has a program called "Be a good host" to recruit local experts to give presentations to tourists on a volunteer basis. Visitors can learn about jade, antiques, Chinese clothing, Chinese tea, pearls, feng shui and local architecture, all for free.

"If I pay them then they're tour guides," said Lily Shum, regional director of the Americas for the Hong Kong Tourism Board. "If they volunteer their time, they are ready, willing and able to talk to the tourists and introduce Hong Kong from their heart. It's not a lot to ask."

In a presentation tomorrow, Narciso Moreno, regional director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., plans to urge travel agents to think of smarter ways to market destinations.

Moreno, who is a scuba diver, said scuba certifications have increased 6 percent in the last year. Kayaking and hiking are also growing in popularity in Puerto Rico. And while travel agents have to recognize new opportunities, Moreno said, tourism officials on the other end need to provide references for reputable operators who have the proper permits, licenses and insurance.

"It's not that we haven't done these things," Moreno said. "Now we need to present it in a better form."

Reach Kelly Yamanouchi at 535-2470, or kyamanouchi@honoluluadvertiser.com. Reach Dan Nakaso at 525-8085, or dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.