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HVCB head keen on tourism rally

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Don Horner, chairman and chief executive officer of First Hawaiian Bank, likes how the state’s tourism market is rebounding and said his goal as the new chairman of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau is to keep the momentum going. 

His appointment, announced today and effective Jan. 1, comes as reviving tourism is closing in on 7 million visitors this year.

"My goal is to continue to support the industry to do what they’ve been doing," Horner said. "The state should be proud of its accomplishment during this difficult time in the economy. We’re the envy of the world because of the brand we’ve developed and the value that we’ve created for the customers."

Horner succeeds Mark Dunkerley, president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines, who was chairman for the past two years.

"Mark did a fabulous job," said John Monahan, HVCB’s president and CEO. "He’s been a godsend for us."

HVCB is contracted by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the state’s tourism agency, to provide marketing management services in North America.

Horner’s selection means that the CEOs of the state’s two largest banks will be leading groups that will play highly visible roles in tourism next year. Peter Ho, chairman, CEO and president of Bank of Hawaii, is chairman of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation 2011 Hawaii Host Committee that will oversee the gathering of world government and business leaders in Honolulu next November.

"Under (Horner’s) leadership, we will look to further strengthen the synergy between tourism and the local business communities on all islands as we continue to brand Hawaii as a top destination for leisure and business travel," Monahan said.

Horner, who heads the state’s largest bank in terms of assets ($14.8 billion), said people sometimes forget that the state is in the manufacturing business.

"Our state is very successful in manufacturing and selling tourism to the customers around the world," Horner said. "We sell a product of almost a billion dollars a month that we export, and that revenue, based on a 2009 economic survey we did with Dr. Leroy Laney, accounts directly or indirectly for 40 percent of the jobs in the state and represents nearly 40 percent of the tax revenue in the state."

Horner said the state has been able to increase its allure by going beyond sun and surf and diversifying its product mix.

"Our focus has been more on quality rather than quantity of visitors," Horner said. "We’ve been selling golf, food, shopping, dancing, music and culture, and we’ve diversified the mix to include time-shares, which has brought in this other benefit of return visitors and additional taxes."

Monahan said Horner’s position as the head of First Hawaiian Bank enables him to see the scope of the business community and the effect that tourism has on every aspect in the state. But Monahan said the state still has work to do.

"We invested in the infrastructure (such as new Waikiki developments) during the good time since the last decade, and that improved product is serving us well because now the visitor sees tremendous value in the destination," Monahan said. "That’s why I think we’ve seen arrivals jump back quicker here (up 7.2 percent through the first three quarters) than other destinations.

"But there’s a price of getting arrivals back. There’s been some heavy discounting from traditional rates to get people here. The great news is that they’re coming, but at some point there has to be a balance at driving arrivals at any cost."

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