Isles’ visitor appeal slips

A survey finds other states gaining

By Pete Pichaske
Phillips News Service

WASHINGTON -- Hawaii remains a favorite getaway for Americans looking to escape the winter cold, but the islands are losing ground to states such as Nevada and Arizona, a national travel survey has found.

For the sixth consecutive year, Hawaii was third on American travelers' "wish list" of winter destinations, according to a survey of 1,500 adults by the Travel Industry Association of America.

But while the top two states, Florida and California, were growing in popularity, Hawaii was declining. Twenty-three percent listed the islands as a top winter vacation choice six years ago, but only 18 percent this year.

Nevada is threatening to topple Hawaii from its No. 3 perch, climbing from 11 percent six years ago to 17 percent this year. Another southwest state, Arizona, is now a winter vacation choice for 11 percent of Americans, up from 8 percent six years ago.

Florida retained its grip on first place with 50 percent, followed by California with 36 percent.

Travel industry experts here blamed Hawaii's poor showing -- virtually the only dim spot in an otherwise optimistic report that predicted a 5 percent overall increase in winter travel this year -- on the state's lackluster advertising efforts.

"States like Florida and Nevada have been very aggressive advertisers," said William S. Norman, TIAA president. "Hawaii has not been as aggressive in some of its advertising as other states have been."

Graeme Clarke, senior vice president of the American Automobile Association, also cited Hawaii's inaccessibility by car, the favored way to travel for 78 percent of those surveyed in an AAA poll.

Keith Vieira, vice president and director of marketing for ITT Sheraton in Hawaii, agreed that more advertising is needed. "We cannot continue to be outspent by other destinations and expect tourism growth to continue," said Vieira, also a member of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau board of directors.

The HVCB's top officials are in Kona for a conference of the U.S. Tour Operators Association and were unavailable for comment.

Studies such as the TIAA's and those conducted for the HVCB by Toronto-based Longwoods International regularly show Hawaii high on Americans' "wish list." However, they have also revealed a perception that Hawaii is expensive and hard to reach.

Star-Bulletin reporter Russ Lynch
contributed to this report.

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