Visitor arrivals and spending rose in July to mark the second month both categories have been up since November.
Tourists spent $1.7 billion, up more than 2% from July 2018, according to preliminary statistics released Thursday by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. July spending growth was outpaced by the year-over-year gain in visitor arrivals, which rose more than 6% to 997,872.
The spending increase in July wasn’t high enough to break the year-to-date trend of more visitors coming to Hawaii and spending less while they are here. Despite some July gains, spending through the first seven months of the year is off more than 1% to nearly $10.6 billion. Year-to-date visitor arrivals to Hawaii increased by almost 5% to nearly 6.2 million.
Until the past two months, arrivals had been growing since February 2017, but tourism spending had been falling for seven months. That’s the opposite of HTA’s goal, which now now favors visitor experience, resident sentiment and spending over tourism arrivals. After all, tourism and government officials alike have learned that visitors are happiest when residents are satisfied.
The new paradigm is so important that the Hawaii Convention and Visitors Bureau in partnership with HTA and county governments is now involved in managing the post-arrival visitor experience through a campaign called “Kuleana,” named for the Hawaiian word for responsibility.
The campaign, which debuted on Maui in December and launched on Kauai, Oahu and Hawaii island in June, is a series of educational videos about pono tourism. Topics range from encouraging tourists to have cultural and environmental awareness to ocean safety to discouraging use of illegal vacation rentals and many more issues that have accompanied rising visitor counts.
So far, the “Kuleana” videos are being shown on some airlines. The videos also can go directly into the Facebook and Instagram feeds of visitors on each island, which HVCB can identify by using geo-targeted technology. “Kuleana” assets are available in English, Korean, Chinese and Japanese and can be linked to HVCB’s partners’ own distribution channels.
HVCB Chief Marketing Officer Jay Talwar said undermanaged tourism is a global concern which threatens environment and culture and creates friction with local residents.
“But tourism is the lifeblood of our economy, so what’s a destination marketing organization to do? We can’t stop marketing, then start again when we need visitors, then stop … and start again, because the competitive global environment will reduce the economic benefits that tourism currently provides to our islands,” Talwar said.
The challenge led HVCB to start “thinking about how we could use marketing to shape the destination. We wanted to explore how marketing could get us to the end goal of protecting natural resources and perpetuating the culture,” Talwar said.
Talwar said the “Kuleana” campaign, which cost upward of $300,000 to distribute, dovetails with HVCB’s “Hawai‘i Rooted” campaign, which began two years ago and is still in use today. For “Hawai‘i Rooted,” HVCB found locals on each island to tell their stories. The idea is that the authenticity will appeal to what HVCB calls “avid travelers,” those for whom travel is a major priority and who typically seek immersed experiences that help them understand the destinations that they visit.
The “Hawai‘i Rooted” campaign, which focuses on bringing “avid travelers” to Hawaii, attempts to appeal to their values, which tend to center on finding enrichment, authenticity and unique experiences that are post-worthy.
“They want to experience how and where locals live, play, eat and relax,” Talwar said. “And, they desire to support a cause.”
The “Kuleana” campaign makes sure that the visitors who choose to come to Hawaii achieve their goals in a way that Talwar said “leaves a softer footprint and hopefully leaves the destination better than when they came.”
These new marketing efforts hark back to growing concerns about some of the negative impacts of increasing visitors, which residents often blame, at least in part, for increased noise, traffic, congestion and the continued strain on infrastructure. The latest resident sentiment survey conducted in 2018 by Omnitrak and presented to HTA in January indicated that there was a notable decrease in the percent of residents who viewed the tourism industry favorably and in those who felt that tourism has brought more benefits than problems. According to Omnitrak, a key takeaway was that as arrivals approach the 10 million mark, residents are seeking “benefits beyond the economic.”
HVCB President and CEO John Monahan said, “We’re a branding agency. We don’t own any product and we don’t price. We work with the industry to try and develop a brand that will be productive for the state of Hawaii but also leave the islands in a pristine condition.”
Monahan said HVCB has worked with the state and counties before. “However, the ‘Kuleana’ campaign is probably the most cooperative thing that we’ve done,” he said. “It’s easy to line everyone up to the same mind. We all live here and we all feel the need.”