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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 18, 2006

HVCB begins publicity blitz

 •  PDF: Read the HVCB news release reassuring prospective tourists that the weather here has improved

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

The state's major tourism marketing office yesterday launched a public-relations campaign to try to reverse any damage from recent news reports about Hawai'i's record rainfall, the Kaloko Dam failure and the sewage spill that closed Waikiki beaches.

The Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau, which markets Hawai'i to North America, sent a news release to more than 100 media outlets, mostly on the Mainland. The HVCB also plans more public-relations efforts based on market conditions, said President and CEO John Monahan.

"We wanted to basically update people who have had an interest in the story and let them know what is taking place in Hawai'i right now," Monahan said.

He said the HVCB targeted markets where there were stories about the rain and related issues and sent the release to national television programs such as "Good Morning America" and the "Today Show." It also sent the release to major newspapers including the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, which ran stories less than two weeks ago with the headline: "Sewage, Rain Wash Vacations Down the Drain."

Saturday's Chicago Tribune also included a story headed with: "Hawaii taken by storm: Hardly the postcard image; 6 weeks of rain have left a wake of death, fouled beaches and ruined vacations in tourism-dependent Islands."

Yesterday's news release launching the HVCB's publicity campaign was entitled: "Sunshine Returns to Hawai'i" and said: "The weather system that brought weeks of unusually heavy rainfall to the Hawaiian Islands has dissipated and sun-worshippers are back on the beaches." It said that the state Department of Health reopened Waikiki Beach April 4.

The release also included a photo dated April 12 of two children playing under blue skies in waters off Princeville Resort at Hanalei Bay on Kaua'i.

Monahan and other tourism officials have been cautious in the timing of the campaign, saying the weather and related issues need to stabilize before launching any publicity.

"We wanted to get the truth out to our potential visitors as soon as we possibly could but ... first of all, we needed to know the weather pattern had stabilized, and it appears it has. We've had some good weather for a while," Monahan said.

Monahan said the HVCB has also been in touch with travel trade media, travel agents and wholesalers and noted the Hawai'i Tourism Authority last week allocated $400,000 for airline and wholesaler cooperative programs. He also said inquiries to the HVCB have subsided and visitor arrivals are "pretty strong." The HVCB is closely monitoring bookings, he said.

Passenger arrivals so far for April are up 12.6 percent from a year ago.

But the Mainland publicity appears to have already done some damage to Hawai'i's image as some hotels are reporting a slight slowdown in bookings.

The Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa had few cancellations in March, "but we are seeing a slight dip in April from our forecasts," said Cynthia Rankin, regional director of public relations for Hilton Hawaii. "We're seeing our booking pace has dropped a bit. ... I don't think it's a huge drop. But we are reforecasting our numbers" for April.

While cancellations have tapered off at the Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club which was flooded last month the booking pace is slightly behind last year, said general manager Bill Countryman. He said people appear to be hesitant to book trips.

"Even though they've heard bits and pieces of good news, good news always travels a little slower than the bad news. And unfortunately, on the Web there's pictures out there with no dates on them (of) the flooding of the resort area, the erosion of the beach, all of which have been resolved other than the 25 hotel rooms that we are replacing furniture in."

Countryman, however, said he still expects business in the summer to be strong.

Kaua'i Visitors Bureau executive director Sue Kanoho said while some hotels "are fine," a few other properties and activities companies have said their booking pace has "been off by a bit." She said she is collecting more information from the industry on the island.

Still, Joseph Toy, president of hotel consultant Hospitality Advisors LLC, said he expects business for hotels to remain strong. He said even if the market softens, room charges and revenue will still hold up.

Starwood's Hawai'i properties are seeing a slowdown in the booking pace, but that's more related to the availability of air seats coming in, said spokesman David Uchiyama. Hawai'i's scheduled air seats from April to June are down about 1.2 percent, according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

But state tourism liaison Marsha Wienert said the dip in bookings that some hotels are reporting is probably because of a decline in Japanese visitors as well as media reports of the rain and Waikiki sewage spill.

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com.