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APEC Impact

Cachet from this fall's global summit brings in other international business

By Allison Schaefers

LAST UPDATED: 7:11 p.m. HST, Oct 20, 2011

Hawaii has long been branded the ultimate sun-sand-surf leisure destination; but the business side of the state's visitor industry is starting to cash in on the coming Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.

The APEC Leaders' Meeting was a "game changer" for last year's host, Yokohama, Japan, and all signs suggest that Hawaii also will get a similar boost in its convention and meetings business, said Joe Davis, general manager of the Hawai‘i Convention Center.

Since Hawaii's selection as host to the APEC Leaders' Meeting and four other events leading up to it, the Hawai‘i Convention Center has seen a significant increase in global registrations, especially from Korea, China and other Pacific Rim countries, Davis said.

"The success of the center's new international outreach program, coupled with November's APEC 2011 Leaders' Meeting, helps solidify Hawaii as a location of shared geographic convenience in which to do serious business," he said. "We've learned that a number of organizations will want to meet at an APEC destination because it is such a prestigious event."

International attendance rose this year at three of the center's largest meetings: gatherings by the American Academy of Neurology (April), the American Psychiatric Association (May) and the Association for Asian Studies and International Convention of Asia Scholars (March and April). Signs are that the positive trend also will apply to the American College of Chest Physicians, which plans to meet in Hawaii in October for the first time, said Paul Markowski, executive vice president and chief executive of the group.

"We've already used up our contracted room block, and we'll need to go out for more," Markowski said.

Hawaii made "all the difference" as well for the American Psychiatric Association, whose meeting drew 11,000 attendees from about 86 countries to Hawaii, said Dr. Iqbal "Ike" Ahmed, president-elect of the Hawaii Psychiatric Association.

"We had more international participation than we had a year ago in New Orleans," Ahmed said. "The numbers of people from the Asia Pacific region including Japan (in spite of the tsunami), China, South Korea and Australia all went up. Also the number of people from Canada went up."

International participation helped AAN attract 2,518 more attendees than expected, Davis said. International participants from 92 countries accounted for 37 percent of attendees. Attendance rose 63 percent from Japan and doubled from Australia and China.

"We were really pleased with the spike," said Christine E. Phelps, deputy executive director of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Academy of Neurology Foundation.

The AAN has met in Hawaii twice even though the state's reputation as a leisure destination has sometimes made it a tough sell to businesses leery of having their meetings labeled junkets. "We found that there is a real benefit to having a serious meeting in a beautiful place," Phelps said. "If APEC press coverage brings this to light globally, it could really help Hawaii's meetings market." 

Once Hawaii was announced as the site of the 2011 APEC Leaders Meeting, the state achieved a level of awareness and cooperation that takes years to develop, said Randy Tanaka, assistant general manager of the Hawai‘i Convention Center and a member of Hawaii's APEC host committee.

"Now we are recognized on a higher level, a place where global meetings should happen — not can happen, but should happen — with Asia and global partners," Tanaka said.

APEC will galvanize investment among Hawaii's business providers much as the 1999 visit of the American Dental Association spurred cooperation and validated the need for the center, he said.

Also, the international outreach and participation surrounding APEC will create more opportunities for global meetings, said Peter Ho, chairman of APEC's Hawaii host committee.

"Global meetings is the biggest opportunity that we have going for us," Ho said. "Tourism is 50-plus years old in Hawaii, and we are struggling to find new ways to prosper as a community."

Global meetings, especially APEC, provide a chance to showcase Hawaii's business side, said Jerry Gibson, area vice president for Hilton Hawaii.

In particular, APEC's CEO Summit and the Leaders' Meeting will strengthen Hawaii's business travel segment, Gibson said. "APEC is a minor price to pay for a significant return on investment. Leisure travelers, they go back and talk about what a good experience, but there is more spinoff from the business groups."

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