Value and quality key to isle tourism
Visitors want a trip that is free of hassle, a TV expert argues
While Hawaii is positioned to continue attracting visitors in record numbers, the future of the state's tourism industry depends on delivering a unique, hassle-free experience that offers good value to travelers, an expert said yesterday.
"The sun sets nicely everywhere, ladies and gentlemen -- with Photoshop (software), you can even make that happen in a waste dump," Peter Greenberg, NBC's "Today Show" travel editor, told members of Hawaii's travel industry yesterday during a keynote speech at the annual Hawaii Tourism Conference.
Forget lei greeters and handing out chocolate macadamia nuts. Those amenities are nice, but not enough to capture a visitor market that thrives on value and bragging rights, Greenberg said. Providing quality products and services is the secret to selling experiences, he said.
"You can't be competitive on price if you aren't competitive on value," Greenberg said. "It's all about accessible travel, not affordable travel. That's why people are flying JetBlue to go to their yachts."
Consumers are rebelling against travel hassles and hotels that nickel-and-dime them by charging exorbitant Internet and minibar fees, he said.
"People have figured out that there is a difference between price and cost and value," Greenberg said. "Why is it that Internet is free at Hampton Inn, but that the Four Seasons charges $20 a night?"
Across the country, hotels have been increasing room rates faster than they are gaining occupancy, leading to troubled consumers, said Douglas Shifflet, president and chief executive officer of D.K. Shifflet & Associates Ltd., a marketing research and consulting firm.
"As hotels drive rates up by 6 to 8 percent on average, people are reacting in very significant ways to those high rates," Shifflet said. "Hotel amenity wars are missing true opportunities while driving costs up, and charging more is driving people to leave properties."
When it comes to increasing visitor satisfaction, hassle avoidance outranks all other upgrades, he said.
"If you make travel easier, people respond to it terribly well because they are feeling stressed," Shifflet said. "It's more important for hotels to reduce the pain and suffering of their guests than to give them specialty soaps."
Hawaii's latest visitor satisfaction levels demonstrate higher expectations among travelers, state economist Pearl Imada Iboshi said.
Last year, only 75 percent to 77 percent of U.S. visitors to Hawaii said they were satisfied with their lodging experience across all islands, Imada Iboshi said. About 43 percent of Japanese visitors said they were satisfied with their accommodations on Oahu. Visitors from Japan were more satisfied with the neighbor islands, with 59 percent saying they were highly satisfied by Maui's offerings and 56 percent saying their experiences in Kona were satisfactory.
When it came to Hawaii's restaurants, there was even less satisfaction, Imada Iboshi said. Between 59 percent and 61 percent of U.S. visitors were satisfied with restaurants in the state, while less than 25 percent of Japanese visitors were satisfied by isle food offerings.
Visitors were split on Hawaii's golf experience, Imada Iboshi said. About 80 percent of U.S. visitors were very satisfied with golf across the island, while only 37 percent of Japanese visitors said they were satisfied with golf on Oahu. On the other hand, 61 percent of Japan visitors rated golf high in Kona.
"Overall satisfaction by island is declining for Oahu, but it's increasing for Maui and Kauai," Imada Iboshi said.