Tourism official urges focus on Asia
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
Despite the doom and gloom associated with the tourism downturn, a top official of the Pacific Asia Travel Association reminded local officials yesterday that the industry is a resilient one that has survived other challenging times.
Greg Duffell has served as Pacific Asia Travel Association International president and chief executive officer for the past four months. He is based in the organization's Bangkok headquarters, and kicked off a U.S. tour here before heading to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City.
For a region that has weathered tsunamis and an alarming death toll in Asia from SARS, the current economic decline is "not that bad," Duffell said in an interview after giving an address to the Travel and Tourism Research Association conference at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. "I think we're survivors."
Duffell said he sees tremendous potential for the China market becoming an important source of visitors for Hawai'i and other travel destinations. "That's a wave that will eventually come," he said.
He said Hawai'i is in a good position to have learned over decades of experience how to cater to another vital Asian market — Japan.
And people here have the cultural acumen to know that it's more than a matter of using the Japanese model and "change the language and everything is OK."
Duffell said that PATA can assist with some of that training. He said the China market is proving to be a lucrative one, with a recent Visa study showing Chinese travelers charge the most on their credit cards, followed by Russians and Middle Eastern visitors.
Hawai'i will probably see a gradual upswing in Chinese visitors, which will offer an opportunity for the state to be prepared, he said.
Duffell said it makes sense for Hawai'i and other visitor destinations to focus on people who are still traveling rather than spend a lot of time and money on those who have canceled vacations until they get new jobs, refinance their house or see some other big change in their finances.
He has been with Bangkok-based Indochina Services Travel Group as CEO since 2006, with responsibilities for operations in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia.
Duffell's experience in the travel and tourism industry also includes the role of general manager-Worldwide Network for the Thomas Cook Group, and he was regional director-Asia Pacific for Budget Rent A Car for 11 years.
After serving as a pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force, his career in business development took him to Australia, the Middle East, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Duffell last visited Hawai'i seven years ago.
When the association began nearly 50 years ago, Duffell noted that most of the visitor traffic was headed to the Pacific and Asia regions.
"Now as much travel is coming this way as is going that way," he said.