Thursday, June 18, 1998

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin

Mo money

The Missouri
could mean a lot to
Hawaii's economy

By Gregg K. Kakesako


As a visitor attraction, the Mighty Mo will be in a class by itself.

USS Missouri supporters say the 887-foot battleship could attract as many as 650,000 to 800,000 new visitors a year.

Even the latest Asian economic crisis, which could translate into fewer visitors, can't dampen their enthusiasm.

Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris views the historic ship as a "real boost to our economy."

"It is a unique visitor attraction," Harris said, "the start and the end of World War II will be within 1,000 feet of each other in Pearl Harbor," predicting that the Missouri could equal the attendance figure of the USS Arizona Memorial, which draws more than 1.4 million annually.

Those increased visitor numbers could translate to as much as $9 million to $10 million annually in sales of tickets, food, memorabilia and souvenirs with an extra $350,000 in new tax revenues, said Peter Kaanapu, KPMG Peat Marwick director of hospitality, leisure and entertainment practice.

But projections from the USS Missouri Memorial Association -- even after factoring in the Asian economic crisis -- are even more optimistic than Kaanapu's after the museum opens in January.

Roy Yee, association president, said that two years ago, the association believed that at the end of five years of operation the floating museum would have been visited by 1 million people.

"Now we are looking at 600,000 to 800,000 visitors a year," Yee added, "and we project our gross will be $13 million annually."

Yee said the revised figures were based on a recent marketing analysis and the projected use of Atlantis Hawaii's global sales network. Atlantis, which manages Sea Life Park and Waimea Valley and Adventure Park, will be responsible for marketing and selling the battleship as a visitor attraction worldwide.

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Yee said the revised figures take into consideration that the Missouri is "new, affordable and accessible."

And Yee's gross revenue figures don't take into consideration the multiplier effect the Mighty Mo would have in employment or related tourist activities and the economic effect of 40 full-time employees the association hopes to hire.

There also are the construction jobs the Missouri will create during the next five years as refurbishments are made to several Ford Island piers and the ship, Kaanapu said.

"We haven't had anything new," says Darrell Metzger, president and chief executive of Atlantis Hawaii.

Metzger points to the Missouri's seven-day visit to the tiny Oregon resort city of Astoria earlier this month, where more than 100,000 people clogged coast highways and crammed into its hotels and restaurants, injecting nearly $7 million into its economy. Only 57,000 of them were able to get onto the ship.

"This definitely had a major impact on the city," Astoria Mayor Willis Van Dusen said, "and it's all positive. Having 40,000 to 50,000 people here over a six-day period is a real shot in the arm."

Bob Filori, chairman of the Port of Astoria Commission, estimated that 75 percent of it was new money from out-of-county visitors from across the Northwest and parts of the United States who otherwise would never have come to Astoria.

What was heartening to Metzger was that the battleship was appealing to all age groups. "That was encouraging," Metzger said.

"Our recent surveys show a move toward lower-priced points, and the Missouri would fit here," Kaanapu said.

Kanapu, of KPGM Peat Marwick, said the ticketing plan for the Missouri is envisioned with adult prices in the range of $10 to $12. This would dovetail with prices charged by the USS Bowfin Museum and the Bishop Museum, he said.

Kaanapu said financial data reported to his firm in April showed that visitors sought attractions at the lower end of the price spectrum.

"Smaller less expensive attractions are reporting double-digit increases in attendance over April 1997," he said.

But there are problems to consider.

Attendance is down at the state's No. 1 visitor attraction: the USS Arizona Memorial, which charges no admission.

In May, the National Park Service, which oversees the operation of the Arizona Memorial, said the visitor count was down 13 percent, with the biggest decrease recorded in the Asian market -- attributable to the Asian economic crisis.

Yee said he believes, however, the downturn in the Asian economy has been addressed in recent marketing surveys.

"We still think that since we are new, affordable and in town and readily accessible," it only enhances our chances, he said.

Valerie King, head of Atlantis' consumer and marketing department, said studies have shown that the highest interest seems to be from the visitor market from the mainland.

"But surprisingly, there is even a huge interest by the Japanese," King said. "They love battleships. I guess they like the technology."

King pointed out that the entire Mighty Mo interactive museum will be developed during the next five years, meaning that there always will be something new.

King said the Missouri will offer varied activities to try to appeal to all age groups. These may range from high-technology games and Internet exhibits to allowing sleepovers on the battleship for school-age children.

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