Friday, August 20, 1999

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Visitors take in the sights on the village canoe tour
at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie. One of the
villages is partially hidden in the background.

It takes more
than a village to
market Polynesian
Cultural Center

A $1 million employee severance
program and a year-round pass
are among moves that have boosted
business 1% so far this year
despite fewer Asia tourists

By Russ Lynch


IN 1997, thanks to a successful specialized marketing effort, the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie attracted 110,000 tourists from Korea.

"We had 100 percent of that market," recalls Lester W.B. Moore, president and chief executive officer since 1991. Just about every Korean who came to the islands, came to PCC.

The following year, they were gone, kept at home by the sudden economic crisis that swept Asia and hit Korea particularly hard.

"They fell off by about 95,000. We lost all of those and about $2 million in revenue overnight," Moore said in a recent interview.

That was nearly 12 percent of the center's traffic gone.

PCC had other troubles too. The rising level of repeat tourists meant many visitors to Hawaii had seen the center before so it was no longer on their must-see list.

And, with so many other competing attractions beckoning, the ride out to Laie seemed just too far for many.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Dreana Sproat entertains visitors at the center with the ukulele.

Moore and his team were left with some major worries and solutions they pondered included closing down the center for another day each week, in addition to its traditional Sunday closings. They also thought about temporarily shutting down the PCC's mini-villages for renovations, one at a time.

Now, Moore and the PCC's marketing vice president, Dave Cole, talk proudly of the solutions they found that didn't require any closings. They say their strategy has business up 1 percent so far this year from the same time last year, despite the loss of visitors from Korea and, to a smaller extent, from Japan and elsewhere in Asia.

It's a business story, since the PCC -- which had $41 million in revenues last year -- operates in the same competitive arena as the other attractions.

But it is more than that because of the Christian connection. Moore talked about the PCC's link to the Church of Latter-Day Saints and how that played a role in all the strategic decisions made.

The most obvious solution was to cut costs by laying off full-time workers. "Our officers and senior managers were heartsick we had to do it," he said.

But Moore said "inspiration from our Father in heaven" and the biblical exhortation to "do unto others as we would do to ourselves" guided the organization's downsizing strategy.

"We put together a program so people had the resources to go on and do other things," he said. Everyone was told the center would pay a round-trip air fare to anywhere in the world for any employee who was genuinely seeking a job there.

PCC brought in a professional benefits consultancy that is part of the LDS system. Employees were interviewed one at a time. The benefits were adjusted to meet individual cases.

This all took time and it was about six months before anyone left, Moore said. "It wasn't that they'd come in one morning and the manager is sitting there with a blue slip," he said.

In the end, 82 opted to leave, cutting the full-time work force by 25 percent. Those who stayed have increased their productivity, the PCC executives say. Performers in the shows, for instance, go around the property between shows to see where they can help, clearing tables in the restaurants, keeping the grounds clean, generally helping where they can.

"Especially at intermission, they're out there helping. They go out and service ice cream and clean up, or act as guides," Moore said.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Polynesian Cultural Center Marketing Director Dave
Cole, left, and President Les Moore sit at the Hawaii
village area's newly built chief hut.

The employee severance program "cost us over a million dollars," Moore said, but in just 41/2 months that was recouped. "Our expenses this year are down 8.6 percent," he added.

At the same time Cole's marketing job was kicking in, finding and using new ways to market, new products to sell, new ways of reaching people.

"In the repeat market, it is difficult for us to continually get on the short list of visitors coming here," Cole said. "We try to keep things fresh, let people know what's new out here," he said, citing the new luau, canoe pageant, village shopping centers, and nightly show.

Distance was identified as a barrier, so marketing concentrates on what a great scenic ride it is, how fun it is getting there, he said.

Another important step was introducing a year-round, unlimited-visit pass for Hawaii residents for $15.95. Aside from generating kamaaina business, it means residents can bring their out-of-town guests without paying so much themselves, Moore said. Regular entry fees range from $47 to the $75 dinner and show package.

The PCC pays its BYU-Hawaii student workers anywhere from $5.75 an hour to $8 an hour, Moore said, but the value to them is much higher in the amount of help it gives them with their education, which is already heavily subsidized by the Mormon church.

"What the Polynesian Cultural Center is really all about," Moore said, "is that it provides an opportunity for students from the Pacific Rim and the South Pacific whose per capita income is so low they could never afford this kind of tuition."

The Polynesian Cultural Center at Laie, about an hour's drive from Waikiki, was established in 1963 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as a nonprofit activity to preserve Polynesian culture and provide financial help for students at the Brigham Young University-Hawaii next door.


Bullet Employs more than 1,200, of whom 700 are BYU-Hawaii students from 60 countries and nearly every state.
Bullet A 42-acre complex of Polynesian "islands" representing Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand (Maori), the Marquesas, Samoa, Tahiti and Tonga.
Bullet Gateway Restaurant, seating 1,000.
Bullet Pacific Theater, a 2,770-seat amphitheater for the evening show, "Horizons, Where the Sea Meets the Sky."
Bullet Alii Luau on a one-acre site.
Bullet IMAX theater, featuring "The Living Sea," "Polynesian Odyssey" and "Everest."
Bullet Treasures of Polynesia shopping center plus smaller retail centers at the villages.
Bullet Lagoons and canals for canoe pageants and guided canoe tours.
Bullet Neighbors: LDS Temple, BYU-Hawaii campus, Laie town.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
A signpost points the way to different villages at the center.

Center benefits
BYU-Hawaii students

By Russ Lynch


The Polynesian Cultural Center was opened in 1963, built by more than 100 volunteers, called "labor missionaries" by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints calls "labor missionaries."

It actually had its origins in the late 1940s, when church members started the hukilau, a fishing festival and luau that was operated as a fund-raiser for the church.

After the Church College of Hawaii was opened in 1955, busloads of tourists came out to the college to see its Polynesian students stage their "Polynesian Panorama" of authentic South Pacific island songs and dances.

When the Polynesian Cultural Center first opened, staffed mostly by students of the school (which in 1974 became a branch of Brigham Young University), it could only fill its 600-seat amphitheater on Saturday nights.

Jet travel and the soaring popularity of Hawaii as a tourist destination fixed that. By the late 1960s, the amphitheater had been expanded to almost 1,300 seats and villagers staged an evening show every night but Sundays, and sometimes twice a night.

In 1975, there was a major expansion at the center, enlarging the amphitheater to hold nearly 2,800 people, and later developments added a number of new buildings to the complex of native villages and shops, including the 1,000-seat Gateway Restaurant.

Over the years, about 30,000 BYU-Hawaii students, have helped finance their education by working at the center 20 hours a week during the school year and 40 hours in the summer. More than $155 million in PCC revenues have gone to BYU-Hawaii.

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