Evolving Waikiki stays popular and competitive
The Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association would like to respond to Franco Mancassola ("Hawaii's tourist market lost its way when it turned its back on traditional visitors," Star-Bulletin, July 27
) and Willis Moore ("Show visitors something more than sun and surf," Aug. 19
), who blame the current drop in visitor arrivals in Waikiki on overpricing and lack of appeal.
We don't believe this to be the case. At the start of the year, Waikiki hotels were enjoying brisk business that has been the norm for several years. Tourists hardly needed their arms twisted to get here, and clearly were willing to paying the going rate because of the value they saw in Waikiki, a fact supported by the high marks given to their vacation experience in departure surveys.
That the state's tourism engine isn't firing on all cylinders is not because of any significant shortcomings in Waikiki, or in tourism marketing. It's about people choosing to defer their vacation plans due to the nation's weak economy and higher airfares.
Waikiki today is long past the old-fashioned tourism of the 1960s and '70s of a minimalist hotel room, going to the beach and sitting around the pool. Anyone nostalgic for those days is simply not being realistic. Tourism in Waikiki is not a cottage industry, and the state's dependence on its prosperity cannot be sustained by modestly priced small- to medium-sized hotels and mom-and-pop shops.
Today's global travelers want more than the simple accommodations of the past. They expect spas, fitness centers, high-speed Internet access, flat-screen TVs and state-of-the-art bathrooms and bedding. And yes, the costs of constant renovations and add-ons of amenities and services do make accommodations more expensive. Especially when you consider that soaring oil prices have doubled energy costs for hotels in the past year, and that labor costs continue to rise in recognition of the hard work and dedication of employees.
Even so, Waikiki offers accommodations to fit every pocketbook - from high- to mid- to lower-priced hotels and timeshares to bed and breakfast operations and vacation rentals. And in times like these, hotels adjust their room rates and package prices to match the elasticity of supply and demand.
As the undisputed champion of the state economy, Waikiki has in recent years benefited from an enormous confluence of private and public monies totaling more than $3 billion to remain competitive against destinations like Las Vegas, the Caribbean Islands and Mexico that are also pouring money into improved visitor facilities. At the same time there is an effort to ensure that the Hawaiian culture continues to be nurtured in Waikiki through programs at the new Royal Grove at the Royal Hawaiian Center and in various hotels.
The result is an increasingly contemporary and glamorous urban resort that appeals to a global customer who expects far more in accommodations, shopping, dining, cultural experiences and off-beach pursuits then ever before. Which brings us to another point: Waikiki and the state have not relied on the "sun, surf and sand" marketing pitch for decades. Anyone who hangs onto that belief has their head buried in the sand. The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau does an excellent job promoting the myriad uniquely Hawaii experiences in and around Waikiki and Oahu, far beyond the obvious beacons of Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor. Doubters can check out HVCB's Web site, GoHawaii.com
Waikiki is a work in progress. It is a community that evolves in step with the ever-changing expectations, preferences and choices of generations of new travelers. It has imperfections, but in terms of the modern era, Waikiki is more appealing than ever.
Murray Towill is president of the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association.