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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, August 24, 2003

Convention marketers target misperceptions

 •  Projected bookings for convention center
 •  Coming soon

By Kelly Yamanouchi
Advertiser Staff Writer

When corporate meeting planners consider where to hold their next gathering, they often think of Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

But Hawai'i Convention Center marketers have been trying to change that, and they say they are making progress even while selling Hawai'i as a place to do business remains an uphill battle.

Marketers hear several objections from meeting planners to bringing business groups to the Islands, the most common being that traveling to Hawai'i takes too long.

"That's one thing you have to help people understand ... 'far' is a state of mind," said Red Cavaney, board chairman of the American Society of Association Executives, a group made up of key meeting planners who are holding their annual meeting at the Hawai'i Convention Center this week.

"When you get on a plane, the difference between a three-hour flight and a five-hour flight isn't that great. ... I think that's something that's somewhat overcome-able."

Playing, not working

More problematic is "the boondoggle perception," that participants in the meetings will be playing instead of working while in Honolulu.

"Because we have done such a great job of convincing everybody that we're the ideal place for a vacation, very often businesses, particularly the CEO, may be concerned that a meeting here kind of looks like a boondoggle, and in a time when every CEO is under pressure to make his bottom line," said Steve Bretschneider, chief marketing officer for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

"If they're not meeting their targets, to tell their board or shareholders that they're going to have their annual meeting or business conference in Hawai'i ... looks like an extravagance."

To help counter that perception, the Convention Center's marketing and management agency SMG is partnering with DBEDT in a campaign known as "Hawai'i Is Open for Business," a theme Gov. Linda Lingle has promoted in Hawa'i and beyond.

Since Asia presents Hawai'i with the greatest economic growth opportunity in coming years, Hawai'i officials are eager to tout the Islands to business groups there, promoting the Islands as a convenient midpoint between Asia and the U.S. Mainland.

Bretschneider said DBEDT is considering targeting top-level executives vacationing in the Islands to communicate that Hawai'i is a good place for business. In-flight videos for first-class cabins on Hawai'i flights would be one way to deliver that message.

"When those people come through," Bretschneider said, "we need to let them know this story and be a little more aggressive with how we take advantage of their time here."

Cavaney said he thinks "Hawai'i presents a very compelling business destination story."

"Executives these days have an incredible premium on their time. They're being tugged in many different directions," he said. "They're not getting as much vacation time as they used to."

Because of such factors, planners of meetings look for places with a good business environment, a "visitor-friendly" attitude and activities outside of the meeting.

"I think Hawai'i fits that bill," he said.

Planners also relate the concern that event attendance will drop for a meeting in Hawai'i because of all of the state's natural distractions.

Incentives for planners

Marketing director Randy Tanaka, who works for SMG, said Hawai'i has "kind of tempered" some of those objections by offering advice and incentives to meeting planners.

Convention officials recommend that meeting planners start meetings early in the morning because with the time difference, delegates would normally be awake. They could then end their meetings earlier in the afternoon so people don't feel as if they're indoors all day while the sun is shining outside.

Tanaka is also experimenting with what he calls an "extraordinary guarantee" of meeting attendance — offering to pay planners an insurance of sorts if the number of conventioneers doesn't come to at least 80 percent of the average attendance for the past three years.

If the "insurance" payout is $25,000 and the event is expected to generate more than $20 million in tax revenue and visitor spending for the state, "it really is a simple investment," Tanaka said.

Whether or not these efforts translate into bookings at the convention center will be closely watched.

"SMG is under the microscope as far as booking the convention center," said Senate tourism committee chairwoman Donna Mercado Kim.

Reach Kelly Yamanouchi at kyamanouchi@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2470.

• • •

Projected bookings for convention center
Estimates are based on the number of events currently scheduled for the Hawai‘i Convention Center:
No. of events*
Total attendees
Visitor spending
Tax revenue
* Events from out-of-state as of July
Note: Attendees, visitor spending and tax revenues are projections

• • •

Coming soon
Major conventions booked at the Hawai‘i Convention Center
Event Dates Attendees
American Society of Association Executives 2003 Convention Aug. 23-26, 2003 5,500
Society of Financial Service Professionals 75th Annual Meeting Oct. 25-29, 2003 1,200
Jehovah's Witnesses 2003 International Convention Dec. 18-21, 2003 13,000
American Farm Bureau 2004 Convention Jan. 11-14, 2004 8,000
CISCO Partner Summit Conference Feb. 10-12, 2004 3,000
American Farm Bureau 2004 Convention Jan. 11-14, 2004 8,000
CISCO Partner Summit Conference Feb. 10-12, 2004 3,000
International Association for Dental Research Annual Meeting March 11-13, 2004 6,000
Coors Annual Meeting March 22-24, 2004 3,000
Unicity Networks International Convention June 22-25, 2004 5,000
National Association of Letter Carriers 2004 National Convention July 18-23, 2004 12,000
American Psychological Association 2004 Annual Meeting July 26-Aug. 1, 2004 10,000