Monday, July 28, 2014         

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State visitor industry stands to benefit amid tighter security

By Allison Schaefers


Heightened security measures after Osama bin Laden's death are not likely to affect travel to Hawaii, and ultimately the state could see increased demand, officials and industry leaders said.

Hawaii remained at the lowest tier of the Department of Homeland Security's National Terrorism Advisory System yesterday, said Dan Meisenzahl, spokes­man for the state Department of Transportation, which oversees airports, harbors and roads.

"We are still at the lower level, where we have been for a while," Meisenzahl said. "It has not changed since the announcement of bin Laden's death."

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not issue an NTAS alert yesterday. Alerts will only be issued "when we have specific or credible information to convey to the American public," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement yesterday.

"However, our security posture, which always includes a number of measures both seen and unseen, will continue to respond appropriately to protect the American people from an evolving threat picture both in the coming days and beyond," Napolitano said.

The Transportation Security Administration also said that travelers might notice a variety of security measures at U.S. airports including physical bag checks, random gate screening, explosives detection technology, canine teams and behavior detection officers.

While transportation hubs across the country have beefed up security, Meisenzahl said it is against department policy in Hawaii to confirm changes. "We don't want to let the bad guys know what's going on."

Travelers to Hawaii can keep current on the latest security measures by checking the Transportation Security Administration website, www.tsa.gov, Meisenzahl said.

"Changes will be posted there first," he said.

Meanwhile, bookings to Hawaii remain unchanged, said Jack E. Richards, president and chief executive of Pleasant Holidays LLC, Hawaii's largest wholesaler.

"It's not an issue," Richards said.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, travelers have become accustomed to security precautions, said Mike McCartney, Hawaii Tourism Authority president and chief executive.

"In the last 10 years, security alerts have become part of us," McCartney said.

The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau call center has not received any calls or emails related to bin Laden's death from travelers, said John Mona­han, HVCB president and chief executive.

If that changes, Mona­han said "operators will reassure any caller that Hawaii is a safe destination, vigilant in our cooperation with all governmental agencies in the protection of our residents and visitors alike."

Meanwhile, travel to Hawaii has seen a nice bounce back since a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11, Richards said.

Hawaii tourism took a beating after the tragedy, Richards said. The closure of several Big Island hotels from the same tsunami and rising concerns about a damaged nuclear reactor in Japan also hurt, he said.

"We've had a few weeks to get over these issues," he said. "Hawaii is very well positioned for a very strong summer."

Concerns that bin Laden's death will cause increased terrorist attacks are more likely to work in Hawaii's favor, Richards said.

"Hawaii will absolutely benefit from these events," he said.

Even before bin Laden's death, Richards said a weak U.S. dollar, fuel surcharges and unrest in Africa and the Middle East were prompting some U.S. travelers to stay closer to home.

"Historically, whenever problems arise, people tend to avoid those areas," he said.

The perception of Hawaii as a safe visitor destination helped it rebound faster than other destinations after 9/11, Richards said.

Bin Laden's death is an opportunity for the world to move forward, McCartney said. "People's overwhelming desire to travel and experience the world will overcome any fears that they may experience."

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