FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Locals and tourists packed the beach in Waikiki fronting the Moana Hotel during a canoe regatta last July. Though a new poll finds that Hawaii is still the top dream destination for Americans, many hoteliers and travel wholesalers here are offering specials to keep bookings up.
Hawaii vacation a popular dream
Observers find reality differs slightly from a tourist-related survey
Hawaii is still the most preferred dream travel destination for Americans, according to a new Gallup poll -- but the reality appears rather different to hoteliers and wholesalers, many of whom have resorted to offering more specials than usual to keep actual bookings up.
Seventeen percent of adults polled by the Gallup Organization from May 22 to 24 said that if money were no object, Hawaii would be their dream destination.
The poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 households, used an open-ended format allowing those surveyed to name any place their heart desired. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Europe (11 percent) Australia (6 percent), Italy (5 percent) and Alaska (4 percent) rounded out the top five destinations -- although none of them came close to Hawaii's lead.
Hawaii also led the poll in 1991, 1999 and 2002.
"No other destination is even close -- Hawaii still makes up about 80 percent of our business," said Ken Phillips, vice president of marketing for Pleasant Holidays LLC, Hawaii's largest wholesaler.
Summer travel to Hawaii is up about 2 to 5 percent over last year for Pleasant Holidays; however, the number of discount or added-value specials, such as free room nights or meals, has increased, indicating that there might be some softening in the overall market, Phillips said.
A quick perusal of Internet specials in Hawaii shows an incredible smorgasbord of summer values from Hawaii's top hotel companies. Just to name a few:
» Hilton Hawaiian Village is offering reduced rates, an upgrade and a $50 dining credit.
» Outrigger is offering the fifth night free at many properties.
» Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort and Spa is offering a fourth night free.
» ResortQuest is offering the Aloha Free Deal, which includes two-for-one luau certificates, a coupon book, a $100 food and beverage credit and waives hotel fees for keiki.
» Castle Kona Bali Kai is offering the fifth night free and a coupon book.
» Ritz-Carlton Kapalua is offering an upgrade to partial ocean view and the fifth night free.
"Normally we don't see these kinds of specials during peak seasons like summer," Phillips said. "You've had a good run in Hawaii for the last year or two, and now it appears to have reached its peak and be stabilizing or leveling off."
Outrigger, which is giving away a fifth night free to guests this summer, said it is experiencing a strong season. The extra-day offer is an added incentive that it uses to rake in bookings throughout the year, said Peter Jenkins, vice president of sales for Outrigger Enterprises.
"We'll exceed budget every month this summer," Jenkins said. "We don't have any worries for summer, but the jury is still out for fall."
There is no discussion right now about room rates being dropped here, but that could change if bookings are soft into fall, Phillips said.
"If bookings don't pick up for fall, I think we'll see lots of specials and rate reductions," Phillips said.
Starwood has been offering a wider variety of room rate and package pricing categories this season because the second half of the year has proved softer due to declines in the number of visitors from Japan and in the group travel market, said Keith Vieira, senior vice president of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. for Hawaii and French Polynesia.
Since there is no question that there is still plenty of demand for Hawaii as a destination, offering specials could be a way for properties to help guests adjust to Hawaii's increasing room rates or entice them to book earlier, said Joy Toy, president of Hospitality Advisors LLC, a Hawaii-based hospitality consulting firm.
"You have always seen the desire for visitors to come to Hawaii. The trick is how do you convert that to actual travel," Toy said.
The lack of budget hotel rooms due to property upgrades and conversions also could have affected the market, Phillips said. "Those looking for the really cheap stuff in Hawaii will not have as many opportunities as they have had in the past," he said.
A decline in available hotel inventory and air seats has had a tremendous impact on the Hawaii market, said Chris Kam, director of market trends for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.
"Last year we were seeing double digit gains in air seats, but this year it's only up 4.3 percent for summer," Kam said. "The airlines added a lot of seats in the first half of last year, and now they are in the process of right-sizing capacity by letting the passenger growth catch up."