comscore Tourism looks for return of business travel market | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Tourism looks for return of business travel market

    Hawaii’s economy will get a boost when the Pacific Rim Incentive &?Meetings Exchange convention begins today. Joel Cordova and his wife, Margery, from Sacramento, Calif., relax on the sands of Waikiki Beach.

The 14th Annual Pacific Rim Incentive & Meetings Exchange (PRIME) convention, which begins here today, could generate millions of dollars in business and incentive events for Hawaii.

About 300 meeting planners from North America and Asia will be in the isles through June 13, checking out possible corporate venues in the islands and booking meetings and incentive trips.

While PRIME has been an annual event here for the past 14 years, it’s a positive sign of the times that attendance this year is up about 30 percent, said Mike Murray, Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau vice president of sales and marketing.

"We see great value in supporting a Hawaii-based conference like PRIME because it lets planners see and experience Hawaii’s diversity as a meetings destination and network with local industry professionals who are experts at creating successful programs," he said.

Each of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau’s chapters representing Kauai, Oahu, Maui and Hawaii counties are making special presentations or hosting site tours of properties on their islands. All hope PRIME will further recovery of Hawaii’s once lucrative business travel market, which lost ground in the last few years amid restrictive business travel policies in a down economy.

In 2005, Hawaii’s peak year for meetings, convention and incentive activity, 584,005 travelers came, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority Economist Cy Feng. The following year, such visitor expenditures topped out at $1.07 billion, Feng said.

However, that market here bottomed out at just 368,630 visitors in 2009, which was the worst year for those arrivals since 2004, he said. In 2010 more of those visitors came. The trend has continued this year. In April such visitors increased 48.8 percent compared with the same month in 2010, Feng said.

PRIME will help the market continue to gain ground, said Mike McCartney, HTA president and chief executive.

"With attendees from North America and Asia, PRIME will complement Hawaii’s efforts to capitalize on the interest in our state as we prepare for the upcoming Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ meeting in November," McCartney said.

Many of PRIME’s participants are from countries who are members of APEC.

Last year 35,000 room nights were booked as a result of PRIME, and some 20,000 room nights are still pending, Murray said.

"This year we hope to generate even more business," Murray said, adding that PRIME returns $17 for every $1 spent.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts has already signed a deal with Chinese-based Sea Trips to handle partial bookings for the tour company, when it brings charters to Hawaii from August to October, said Kelly Sanders, Sheraton Waikiki’s general manager.

"They’ll be bringing 600 people or so per week on two flights from Shanghai to Honolulu," Sanders said. "This will be very good for Hawaii and for Starwood."

PRIME will help Hawaii benefit from the rebound in the U.S. corporate meetings and incentive market that began in October and has continued to now, said Bruce MacMillan, president and chief executive of Meeting Professionals International, whose keynote today lent industry credibility to PRIME.

The U.S. corporate meetings market began to plunge in November 2008 and by the following February, its worst month, had dropped 42 percent, MacMillan said.

"The timing of this event couldn’t be better for Hawaii."

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