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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Seniors, new visitors from Japan targeted

By Kelly Yamanouchi
Advertiser Staff Writer

State travel industry leaders are ratcheting up efforts to improve tourism to O'ahu, gathering ideas for new attractions and investments on the island and focusing more attention on marketing campaigns in Japan.

Both the O'ahu Visitors Bureau and the Hawai'i Tourism Authority are taking new approaches to try to boost the sluggish visitor segment. Since the dramatic drop in the wake of Sept. 11, Japanese visitors to the Islands have slowly increased, but still remain off as much as 10 percent to 20 percent.

The O'ahu Visitors Bureau said yesterday it has been working on attracting more first-time visitors from Japan and "minimizing the downturn" in Japanese tourism through campaigns this year such as a summer festival in Sapporo, a hula event, a fireworks event and advertising at McDonald's, on radio stations, television and karaoke machines and song books.

Next year, the O'ahu Visitors Bureau will have $650,000 for promotions in the Japanese market compared with $700,000 this year, reflecting state budget cuts for tourism, according to Mitsue Varley, the O'ahu Visitors Bureau's regional director of sales and marketing for Asia.

While the visitors bureau focused on advertising and promotions to immediately counter perceptions after the Sept. 11 attacks, next year it will focus more on sales with tour wholesalers and travel agents. Varley said she also wants to focus on integrating marketing into Internet and broadband uses.

Next year's marketing will target Japanese seniors with cultural events and health and wellness tourism, partly because seniors tend to spend more money, Varley said. It will also focus on attracting more first-time visitors and the wedding market, and will be more "results oriented," Varley said.

October passenger volume from Japan compared with 2000 levels is down less than 10 percent, an improvement from a lag of as much as 17 percent earlier in the year, according to O'ahu Visitors Bureau executive director Les Enderton.

The O'ahu Visitors Bureau report on its Japanese marketing promotions comes as the Hawai'i Tourism Authority prepares to take action at its Thursday board meeting on the Hawai'i Visitors & Convention Bureau marketing plan for 2003 and the authority's fiscal 2003 budget.

The tourism authority also recently held a brainstorming session as part of an investigatory committee focusing on how to improve tourism to O'ahu, which has been particularly hard-hit in the past year; the island's hotel occupancies and room rates are among the lowest in the Islands.

The authority withheld about $1.6 million from plans for a Japanese television campaign, and executive director Rex Johnson said all or part of that may be available for use in the O'ahu market.

The tourism authority is waiting for a response from Japan Airlines on the potential for cooperating on a marketing campaign early next year.

"That holds the most hope for us for an immediate first-quarter solution," said Sharon Weiner, DFS Group vice president and a tourism authority board member who convened the investigatory committee.

The committee met earlier this month with the mayor and tourism industry leaders, including Enderton and Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau president and chief executive Tony Vericella.

The group drew up a list of potential ideas to improve the O'ahu visitor industry in the next six months, including lighting up Diamond Head, offering more night scuba diving at Hanauma Bay and improving the airport WikiWiki bus system.

"While the Neighbor Islands have recovered well after 9/11 because their business is more dependent on American visitors than Japanese visitors, O'ahu hasn't recovered at the same rate," said Weiner. "This kind of stands out like a sore thumb among the numbers."

Weiner pointed to effects of the continued weakness on O'ahu businesses, including DFS, which cut many of its employees' work hours and laid off 30 percent of its management. She said Hawai'i's marketshare of Japanese overseas visitors has fallen to an estimated 8 percent from 13 percent in 1997.

"To say that there's more competition is not a good enough answer," Weiner said. "We just need to figure out how to win back the market. It is very doable."

The committee's target for visitor arrivals to O'ahu for the first quarter is 385,000 from Japan, 270,000 from the U.S. West, 280,000 from the U.S. East, and 160,000 from other areas.

Weiner said the O'ahu Visitors Bureau has "done an excellent job given very limited resources" for marketing in Japan and it is unclear whether a campaign resulting from the tourism authority meeting would be run by the tourism authority or the visitors bureau.