Hawaii wedding and honeymoon numbers drop
State tourism officials are worried that the wedding market will continue its decline
WHILE prospective wedding and honeymoon travelers still look fondly upon Hawaii, they aren't booking as many trips here.
According to demand surveys, Hawaii remains top of mind with lovers. But the honeymoon market has risen a scant 1 percent year-to-date, and the wedding market has fallen by 9 percent.
The trend has tourism officials worried.
"The demand is there, but we aren't closing the sales," says state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert.
They are mining the data to figure out how best to win this market back, but at this point they have no concrete explanations for the decline.
Hawaii's wedding market is to a large degree a microcosm of the state's overall visitor market.
Increased travel and accommodation costs have taken their toll on the romance market just as with the industry in total.
But not all isle wedding planners are seeing a downturn. And at least one who is bucking the trend says the key to continued growth is simply keeping up with a changing clientele.
Hawaii finished 2006 as the No. 1 overseas wedding and honeymoon destination for Japan and remains top of mind for domestic visitors, but continued market softening has caused the State's No. 1 tourism official to express concern about the future of this lucrative market.
"The demand is there, but we aren't closing the sales," said state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert. "The drop in Hawaii's wedding and honeymoon market is concerning to me."
Despite strong demand for Hawaii in the romance market, the state finished 2006 down nine percent in the honeymoon market and down 12 percent in the wedding market, Wienert said. And, while there's been some rebound in Hawaii's honeymoon market this year, the wedding market has continued to decline, she said.
Year to date, honeymoons are up 1 percent, but weddings have fallen 9 percent over the same period in 2006, according to statistics from the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.
The domestic market posted a 4.9 percent drop in weddings and a 3.2 percent drop in honeymoons. The Canadian visitor market boosted honeymoon traffic by 1.6 percent, but posted a 55 percent decline in weddings.
There was a 4.6 percent gain in the number of international honeymooners in Hawaii, but international weddings drop-ped 12 percent. The honeymoon market from Japan to Hawaii rose 3.4 percent, but the weddings market dropped 8.4 percent.
"It's too soon to speculate on the decline in our honeymoon and wedding market, but we're studying the data so that we can figure it out," Wie-nert said.
While Hawaii has been the most popular honeymoon destination for Japan travelers since 1977, more of them are choosing to explore destinations that are less expensive and closer to home, said Don Amemiya, public relations spokesman for Watabe Wedding Corp., which handles about 50 percent of the romance market in Hawaii.
Hawaii's wedding market is a microcosm of the state's overall Japan visitor market, Amemiya said. Limited flights, more expensive rooms and package prices as well as higher fuel surcharges have taken their toll on the market, he said.
"We are the same as the other companies. We have our difficult times and our good times. It's a difficult year for us," Amemiya said. "We had a pretty good year last year, but went down toward the end."
Watabe is doing better than the state average, but has still not completely recovered from the market softening that began last September, he said.
The company has begun offering value-added options to its wedding packages and remains cautiously optimistic that the response will drive market improvement, Amemiya said.
"We've made our wedding packages more attractive," he said, adding that the popularity of holding weddings in Okinawa, Guam, Australia and other Asia is growing fast.
Most vendors in the domestic market are still busy, but many have noticed a slowdown since January, said Laura Lewis, of Parasol Events, a wedding planning company that caters to brides from the U.S. mainland.
"I've heard some vendors say that they have started to experience some free time, which isn't really usual in small businesses where owners are used to moving at Mach 5," Lewis said.
She said that her business has been growing steadily, but attributed much of that to her efforts to satisfy the expectations of tech-savvy clientele.
"Hawaii's venues are great, we just have to make sure that we conduct business in a manner that appeals to our target market," Lewis said. "We're getting older, but our brides are still young. They expect Web sites, text and instant messaging, e-mails and even communication through Web sites like MySpace.com."
During the first four months of 2007, Lewis' company had already handled half of their entire volume for 2006, she said.