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

U.S. travel agents wooed at trade show

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Travel agents John and Mary Lou Cox from Virginia chatted with Christina Aldanese of the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau yesterday at the American Society of Travel Agents convention being held at the Hawai'i Convention Center.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

It would be unfair — and untrue — to call the Hawai'i display at the American Society of Travel Agents convention a "booth."

It's a 7,200-square-foot Hawai'i tourism behemoth that dominates the trade show at the Hawai'i Convention Center. And it's designed specifically to attract each of the more than 3,000 travel agents who have gathered here this week, along with more than 450 exhibitors from around the globe.

Nothing else in the room comes close to the Hawai'i exhibit's gigantic pillars that nearly touch the ceiling, surrounded by 56 kiosks staffed by representatives from various tourist-related aspects of the Islands — including condominiums, boat cruises and island visitor bureaus.

As people stopped at the kiosks yesterday, dancers and musicians from the Polynesian Cultural Center performed throughout the day. Staffers handed out free sandwiches and spring rolls provided by Ba-Le, whose Honolulu owner, Thanh Quoc Lam, was named the country's small-business person of the year by the Small Business Administration.

The display normally travels only around trade shows in North America. But Hawai'i visitor officials paid $25,000 to ship it by air and by boat to bring it home for only the second time as the state seeks to impress upon attendees that the Islands are a good place to send their customers.

Hawai'i's display drew 2,000 people yesterday, officials estimated, on the first day of the convention's "paperless" trade show, which followed the theme of helping travel agents to use technology in their businesses and allowed exhibitors to use handheld computers to scan bar codes on the badges of visitors to their booths, instead of handing out brochures and booklets.

The data gathered through bar codes leads to a list of addresses and contact information that exhibitors can use to send materials to those contacts. Exhibitors had faced the problem that the materials they handed out were too heavy for convention delegates to carry back, and were left in hotel rooms or thrown out.

Among other exhibitors yesterday was Rebecca Kopp, who sat at a table inside the Greek National Tourists Organization display and held up the final, third litre of ouzo that Greek officials had poured for travel agents. Only a few drops remained. And a tray of sweet baklava had been pretty well picked over.

"Why not show off what you have to offer?" Kopp said.

She looked over at the display next door by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company and envied the line of people waiting for free drinks mixed with Bacardi rum.

"It looks like the security line at LAX," she said.

Puerto Rico's 20-by-40-foot display included a two-piece band playing salsa, 16 bottles of rum, Puerto Rican coffee, trays of brazo gitano pastry and a Volvo station wagon being auctioned off in the form of a three-year-lease.

Designing a booth that people want to visit is critical to a tourism trade show, said Jose Suarez, deputy executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.

"Between the rums of Puerto Rico, entertainment and pastry and salsa music and coffee, we can draw the people here and talk about our product," Suarez said. "And our product is Puerto Rico."

Hawai'i's display was also designed to send a simple, blunt message at trade shows filled with booths from competing tourist destinations, said David Preece, vice president, North America for the HVCB.

"We want to dominate," Preece said. "We'd rather not even be there if we can't dominate the show."

Preece acknowledged that such sentiments were not particularly in keeping with gentle Hawaiian traditions. So he added a caveat.

"We may dominate," Preece said. "But we do it with aloha."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8085.