Eighteen Korean reality game show contestants are vying for a prize in Hawaii; however, the state’s visitor industry could prove the biggest winner.
KBS, the Korean soap opera station, is filming "Challenger," a kind of "Survivor" or "Amazing Race" meets "The Apprentice," at locations throughout Oahu and Hawaii island. Contestants, who were selected from more than 8,000 applicants, began competing on Saturday and will go through 15 elimination rounds that will leave four contestants to compete on June 7. The final winner will be selected by vote during a live broadcast of the 16th episode.
Hawaii has used the power of TV programming to boost visitor numbers from North America. Shows like the top-rated "Hawaii Five-0" and "Magnum, P.I." have built brand awareness, said Marsha Wienert, regional public relations director for Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
"You can’t buy that type of TV coverage," Wienert said. "It takes Hawaii from the place people want to go to the place that they are coming to."
Hawaii netted tremendous publicity when Jasmine Trias and Camile Velasco became finalists during the third season of "American Idol."
"The cost of a 30-second TV spot was $700,000 — back then in 2004," said David McNeil, co-founder of the local public relations firm McNeil Wilson Communications and chairman of its parent company, Anthology Marketing Group. "It’s likely much more now."
The value was in the broadcast of the hourlong Honolulu audition leading up to the on-air competition, plus the ensuing publicity, McNeil said. When Trias and Velasco made the finals, conversation about Hawaii was extended for several weeks, and vignettes of the girls were shot in the islands, he said.
The state also capitalized when this year’s Pro Bowl, which was the highest rated since 2000, garnered 13.4 million viewers on Fox.
However, "Challenger" is the first time that Hawaii has had a similar opportunity for product placement in the growing Korean market, said Toby Tamaye, president of AT Marketing, an Asia consulting firm, who works with clients like Royal Hawaiian Center.
"KBS is the largest Korean station, and this is their first reality show so ratings will be huge," Tamaye said.
Some 7 million visitors, or 15 percent of Korea’s TV watchers, are expected to tune in, he said.
"Beautiful Hawaii will be showcased. If the weather holds, we’ll see Korean TV viewers fall in love the same way that we’ve seen ‘Hawaii Five-0′ fans fall for our islands," Tamaye said.
Reality shows are Korea’s hottest entertainment trend, said Irene Lee, public relations director for AVIAREPS Marketing Garden Korea Ltd., the HTA’s tourism contractor for South Korea.
"The entire show is being filmed in Hawaii, and it’s going to draw people’s attention," Lee said.
Korean celebrity Jung Jin-young has signed on to emcee the show, she said. "He’s a really popular actor in Korea," Lee said.
Korean viewers will have to wait to see the show when it airs sometime between June and September; however, Hawaii residents might have a chance to see it up close and personal.
There will be ample opportunity to watch the contest unfold as participants dive for secret treasure at Ala Moana Beach Park, learn to hula at the Bishop Museum, wander through Dole Plantation’s Pineapple Garden Maze, search for famous places and people in Kailua-Kona and Waikiki, play water games at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa, power-shop at the Royal Hawaiian Center and Kalakaua Avenue for Hawaiian items, shoot fire arrows in Waikoloa, teach Korean-language students at the University of Hawaii to sing and dance, and raise funds for the Korean Cultural Center.
Some people might even get a chance to sample contestant-created cocktail creations from a King’s Village Stand.
Kualoa Ranch, one of the KSB filming sites, recognizes the potential of this promising and lucrative visitor market, said John Morgan, Kualoa Ranch’s president.
"We’ve seen a flurry of interest from various print, film and other media from Korea recently and anticipate huge growth in our visitor numbers from all the exposure and efforts being put forth by various state agencies with private support," Morgan said.
While the Korean visitor market is still relatively small compared with Hawaii’s other visitor source markets, it’s the fastest-growing and one of the more promising, Wienert said. The latest projections from the Hawaii Tourism Authority expect Korean arrivals to go up 47.7 percent this year to 127,748 and spending to rise 65.5 percent to $259 million.
Improvement in airlift from Korea to Hawaii makes it the perfect time for Hilton and Hawaii to participate in the show, said Jon Conching, regional vice president of sales and marketing for Hilton Hawaii.
"Every company that has worked with the Korean market is feeling bullish," Conching said. "The show is a great opportunity for the state to get more exposure overall and for Hilton to spotlight our iconic lagoon. They’ll also get a fabulous shot of Diamond Head along the coastline and our very recognizable rainbow mural."