With few options, visitor industry must keep on trying
Hawaii's tourism industry hopes its marketing efforts will keep visitors coming despite troubles in the air.
As bad news keeps coming from airlines distressed by high jet fuel costs, Hawaii has few choices but to work harder and spend more money to convince tourists to fly to the islands.
Sharp increases in fares ahead of the Memorial Day holiday, new fees for baggage and fuel surcharges threaten to cut deep into air travel to the state while bankruptcy hangs over the parent company of one of the two remaining interisland carriers.
Already, the largest wholesaler of Hawaii tours is seeing signs of trouble. Pleasant Holidays LLC told the Star-Bulletin's Allison Schaefers that though pre-fuel surcharge reservations were sound, bookings for travel in July and August look weak.
The nation's largest airlines Friday boosted domestic fares up to $60 roundtrip and though Hawaii tickets weren't affected, fares to the islands had already seen increases earlier in the week, prompting Rick Seaney of ticket-research company FareCompare.com to lament, "Poor Hawaii - first the demise of Aloha Airlines, then ATA," while noting "a lot of 'upward' price activity" for the 50th state.
The tourism industry hopes to counter fare spikes by spending between $3 million and $4.5 million earmarked for emergency marketing to keep up demand and to prevent airlines that are curtailing flights from bumping their Hawaii routes. State Tourism Liaison Marsha Weinert suggested a message that traveling relieves the stress people face when dealing with daily financial worries, such as paying for gasoline, food and utilities.
Whether travelers will be receptive to that spin and to more advertising is anyone's guess. Even so, a tourism-dependent economy has scarce options.
Meanwhile, Mesa Air Group Inc.'s financial troubles could send the company into bankruptcy, which could, in turn, disrupt service of its local carrier, go! If so, the state would have only one major airline, Hawaiian Air, flying interisland, eliminating competition in a market that just three months ago had three carriers.
Hawaiian last week raised its lowest interisland one-way fare by $10 to $64, straining travel budgets of residents as well as tourists at a time when visitor numbers on Maui and the Big Island are seeing significant declines.
Jet fuel prices that have skyrocketed 43 percent since the start of the year are rupturing the airline industry. With no end in sight, companies are shedding staff, routes and grounding aircraft to cut costs. Raising fares and fees to gain more revenue, however, risks alienating travelers, which Hawaii cannot afford.