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Doubling up

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    Kailasa Ishaya waved yesterday as he sat behind the wheel of a double-decker Aloha Bus in Kakaako. The buses are part of a new sightseeing attraction by Polynesian Tours/Gray Line Hawaii.

Polynesian Adventure Tours/Gray Line Hawaii is undertaking a $3 million-plus land expansion that will bring 60 jobs to Hawaii at a time when tourism is struggling.

London in Waikiki

Prices for the double-decker Aloha Bus service:
» Ticket prices: $39.99 for one-day usage; $49.99 for two days; and $59.99 for a three-day pass.
» Available: Onboard, or online at, by telephone at 833-3000 or toll-free at 1-800-622-3011, or at partner agencies and hotels.

The company, owned by Norwegian Cruise Line, is adding seven open-top, double-decker sightseeing buses to its stable of land activities in the isles. NCL America, which offers cruises through the isles on the home-ported, U.S.-flagged Pride of America, has been expanding its land interests since acquiring Polynesian Adventure Tours/Gray Line Hawaii in 2004. The company, which has been operating for 34 years, has 460 employees and operates more than 140 buses, specializing in charters, transfers and tours, on Oahu, Kauai, Maui and the Big Island.

Norwegian Cruise Line, which owns NCL America, initially had trouble finding its sea legs in Hawaii. The company began offering cruises within the state in 2004. It rapidly expanded to three vessels and was forced to redeploy two of the vessels to other markets in 2008 after weak passenger numbers prompted a reduction in prices. The pullback hurt Hawaii’s visitor market, which at the time also was grappling with lost air service when Aloha Airlines and ATA Airlines shut down, said David Uchiyama, vice president of brand management for the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Polynesian Adventure’s land expansion will bring more stability to NCL’s sea product and to Hawaii’s visitor industry, Uchiyama said.

“NCL is doing much better now in Hawaii. PolyAd’s expansion will help them generate better revenues from guests booking activities,” he said.

The health of NCL is important to the state’s visitor industry, Uchiyama said.

“If you look at our peak 2005, 2006 and 2007 years for arrivals, we can attribute about half a million arrivals each year to the fact that we had three NCL ships in Hawaii and they created more actual flights to the state,” he said.

In recent times, the state has been concerned about the number of cruise ship companies that have been reassigning Pacific-based ships to the Atlantic in the wake of the troubles in Mexico, he said.

“That’s a concern, because we want to keep the ships here,” Uchiyama said. “They help stimulate our economy.”

Aloha ambassadors, sales and support staff and drivers will be needed to operate the new Aloha Bus service. The bright-red, island–themed double-deckers will begin offering scheduled round-trip sightseeing tours later this month. The tours will run from the Duke Kahanamoku Statue at Waikiki Beach to the King Kamehameha Statue and Chinatown in downtown Hono­lulu, with added stops for dining, shopping and transfers to Pearl Harbor. Night tours will take riders to shopping, food and entertainment destinations.

“The double-deckers are not just a mode of transportation, they are a visitor activity in themselves,” said Colin Murphy, president of Polynesian Adventure Tours/Gray Line Hawaii. “You get to travel in high style, enjoying the sunshine, trade winds and scenic views of Oahu, while seeing the sights and learning about local culture and history.”

Each of the red double-decker buses, which seat 63 passengers and can accommodate customers with disabilities, are decorated with images of Hawaii icons and offer tours designed to let people hop on or off at any scheduled stops to dine, shop and view cultural and historic sites. The buses are similar to the ones originally used in London, and are now also popular for sightseeing in Hong Kong, Singapore, New York City and other prime tourist destinations.

“People are familiar with them from other destinations and the jump-on-and-off touring aspect is interesting,” Uchiyama said. “It brings another facet to the touring experience.”

International riders can listen to tours in Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Spanish via individual-passenger headphones. Description of points of interest will be GPS activated as the bus passes cultural and historical sites as well as shops and restaurants.

“We’re pleased to be ahead of the curve by including language translation for the emerging travel business coming from Korea and China,” said Lee Collins, Polynesian Adventure Tours vice president of sales and marketing.

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