Visitors feel less satisfied, study finds
The survey reveals another negative in the tourism industry
A new survey of Hawaii's visitors shows last year's satisfaction levels took a significant drop, which has officials worried about further erosion in an already declining market.
Fewer visitors report that they are extremely satisfied or very satisfied with their Hawaii trips, according to the results of the latest TNS Marketing Effectiveness Study.
The study, presented to the Hawaii Tourism Authority's marketing committee yesterday, measured the annual change in satisfaction levels and demand for Hawaii trips among the state's key market groups.
Satisfaction levels from Japanese visitors fell 13 percentage points from 2005 to 2006. Domestic visitor satisfaction also dropped -- by 7 percentage points for visitors from the eastern region of the mainland and 3 points for visitors from the western states.
"These are significant drops, and we need to identify the reasons that our satisfaction levels have declined in these markets," said Frank Haas, marketing director for the Hawaii Tourism Authority. "We don't want to end up with the declines that we had in the mid-1990s, when Hawaii's visitor industry was so challenged."
According to a similar satisfaction study from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, satisfaction levels have been declining since 2003. However, the latest declines are more of a concern for Hawaii's visitor industry because they demonstrate that there could be a correlation between falling satisfaction levels and dropping visitor arrival numbers.
While Hawaii's largest source market for visitors, the U.S. West, had a 1.4 percent year-over-year increase in January arrivals, overall visitor arrivals were down 5.7 percent, according to a report released on Tuesday by DBEDT. Arrivals from the U.S. East market and from Japan were down 9 percent and 12 percent, respectively.
The HTA knew that tourism was not going to be robust as it entered 2007 and 2008, but falling satisfaction levels bring further cause for concern, said State Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert.
"It's trending in the wrong direction," Wienert said.
Continued research will be crucial as Hawaii's visitor industry moves forward, Wienert said.
"There are not a lot of indicators that things are going to improve in the short term," she said. "We'll likely see additional declines in the next few months. We need more research from both Japan and the United States."
Hawaii's visitor industry has identified several possible causes for the decline in satisfaction levels but is still working to pinpoint the key reasons for continuing drops, Haas said.
Hawaii's push to attract higher-spending, more sophisticated travelers could be one of the reasons that satisfaction levels have dropped, he said.
"They are pickier," Haas said.
Rapid expansion of Hawaii's visitor industry during the last two record-setting years also left the visitor industry with a tight labor market, he said.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority has contracted with the University of Hawaii's Travel Industry Management School to create a hospitality work-force development program, Haas said. They have also discussed hosting another hospitality seminar for members of the state's visitor industry, Haas said. The last statewide service training initiative took place more than a year ago, he said.
Another reason for Hawaii's struggle to satisfy its visitors could be increased competition from new destinations that promise lower prices and newer inventory, Haas said.
Some visitors have proved especially sensitive to Hawaii's rising costs -- the result of higher fuel prices as well as increases in everything from room rates to apparel and food and beverage.
While there is still solid demand for Hawaii from U.S. West and U.S. East travelers, the TNS research shows that Hawaii is not perceived as a destination that offers as much value as others.
While Japanese visitors perceive Hawaii as offering as much value as other destinations, they do not consider travel to Hawaii to be as family-friendly or easy to get around as other locations.
While most of the study was negative, there were a few indications that the state's marketing efforts to ensure that travelers view Hawaii as a unique destination that offers the opportunity for new discoveries and cultural experiences have paid off.
"We saw increasing scores in key message areas across all three major markets," Haas said.