Future group bookings look good
Hawaii's meetings and incentives market is poised to survive rising travel costs
While 2008 has been a tough year for the meetings and incentives segment of Hawaii's visitor industry, the founder of the local chapter of its leading professional organization says that segment may be well positioned to weather the rising costs of travel.
Cheryl Williams, who founded the Aloha Chapter of Meeting Professionals International in 1988, said that while group and incentive travel is down like most facets of the travel industry, advance bookings are actually strong.
"2008 has been one of our most challenging years for the group market because we didn't have as many city wide conventions as we have had in the past," said Williams, who also is regional vice president of sales and marketing for Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. in Hawaii and French Polynesia.
"However, 2009 and 2010 advance bookings are looking very, very good. We think by 2010 Hawaii's cycle will come back," she said.
During the challenging economic times ahead for Hawaii's visitor industry, the success of the meetings and incentives market will continue to have a huge impact on travel in the isles, said Williams.
Despite rising travel costs to come to Hawaii, the state stacks up well against other major group markets like the Caribbean, Mexico and Europe, Williams said.
"Our hotel rates and airfare prices are comparable and often less than these destinations and our quality is better," she said.
Moreover, Hawaii is not the only destination with fuel surcharges, said Jack E. Richards, president and chief executive officer for California-based Pleasant Holidays LLC, Hawaii's largest wholesaler.
"From L.A. to Europe, the fuel surcharges are higher," Richards said.
However, fuel charges and the overall softening in the economy will continue to be challenging for Hawaii, he said.
"Unless we get oil under control, we see this dramatically impacting travel for the remainder of the year for every destination," Richards said. "I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it's the reality. Group travel for 2008 and first quarter of 2009 is way off and it's mostly due to fuel and the softening in the economy."
International markets may help bolster Hawaii's group markets, Williams said.
China and Korea, which have recently gained more access to U.S. travel, are expected to become bigger players in Hawaii's group market by the fourth quarter of this year, she said.
"We have a strong draw as an international destination, especially from Asia," Williams said.
Regardless of the challenges in the overall market, Hawaii's meetings, incentives and group segment will continue to boost traveler length of stay and spending for the industry, said Eadie Hafdahl, current president of the Aloha Chapter of MPI.
"Group, meetings and incentive travelers tend to spend more," she said. "When they travel for business, they have more disposable income, because typically they are not paying for their room and travel costs so they are able to spend more on activities, restaurants, entertainment, spa and sporting events."