Global Tourism Summit: Sustain What Brings People to Hawai'i

Sep 19, 2017

Global Tourism Summit
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

Hawai’i’s annual visitor-industry conference is being expanded to the first-ever Global Tourism Summit.  About 25-hundred attendees are registered for the 3-day event. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.

Halau O Ke’a ’Ali’I Ku Makani opened the Global Tourism Summit. This year’s theme is Sustainable Tourism, which Hawai’i Tourism Authority President and CEO, George Szigeti, says is a balance of complex issues.

“To be a leader of global tourism we must always seek a balance that always allows tourism to thrive.  But, we’re not sacrificing the principles of our culture, the beauty of our natural resources and our treasured way of life.  Being successful requires all of us to work together.  Government.  The private sector.   And residents alike.”

Szigeti says no single agency can achieve this balance.   But, Outrigger Hotels and Resorts retired CEO, David Carey, who served for 25 years in that job, says Hawai’i’s natural beauty is a product that sells.

“Sustainable tourism becomes almost a buzz word.  But its also about preserving the environment and the product.  So I think the industry has to embrace it and do it in a way that makes sense.  And the hard thing is to sometimes make those investments that don’t seem like they are gonna pay off in the near term but are definitely going to pay off in the long term because the water, the plants and the air are gonna be better.”

Chief of Staff to the Governor, Mike McCartney, holds up his symbols of change (slippers and shoes) during his address to attendees.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

Sustainability also refers to the business side of tourism, the ability to continue to attract a steady stream of visitors to Hawai’i.   HTA Chief Marketing Officer, Jay Talwar, says Millennials, those born in the early 1980s and 1990s, are the next generation of leisure travelers and the industry must get to know them.

“In two annual plans from now, 50 percent of travel spending will be done by this age cohort.  Forty percent are parents.  Kind of surprising.  Thirty-six percent still live with their parents.  Maybe not so surprising.  Forty-three percent say texting is just as meaningful as  a phone call.  And the one that blows me away is two-thirds say losing their phone would be worse than losing their car.”

Talwar says Millennials already make up the largest groups of business and vacation travelers.  And the largest concentration of this more affluent demographic is in New York City.  Talwar says the HTA has a 3 year strategic plan for the Big Apple to change perceptions about Hawai’i.

“We’ve done focus groups in the market.  They really think Hawai’i is comprised of a couple of islands, with a couple of beach resorts on each island.  It’s about a 20-hour flight and it’s super expensive and I’m not going to bother looking anymore.  And so that’s the current mindset we’re dealing with.”

Talwar says airline seats are projected to increase more than 16 percent next year and oil prices should be stable until 2021.   But, HTA Chair, Rick Fried, says increasing daily visitor spending is better than a higher number of arrivals.  He says the focus is sustaining what brings people to Hawai’i.

“The average tourist that is coming here has the income of $135-thousand so it’s a very high end type of tourist.  And they’re able to spend on hotels and the food.  Because so many people find that the dining experience is one of those 3 or 4 main reasons they wanna take a trip anywhere.”

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.