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Surf, sun — and business


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POSTED: Sunday, May 03, 2009

A recent Star-Bulletin editorial questions the effectiveness of marketing Hawaii as both a business and pleasure venue (”;Businesses and beaches an inconvenient mix for Hawaii,”; Star-Bulletin, April 8).

But I'd like to share some first-hand perspective on how that strategy actually worked.

One might think that my job as a University of Hawaii engineering professor is far removed from Hawaii's tourism industry. But one of my proudest accomplishments ever was leading a team that organized Hawaii's largest conference and exhibition in 2007: the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) — International Microwave Symposium (IMS 2007), which attracted more than 7,000 attendees and nearly 300 exhibiting companies from 25 different countries, and which generated $34 million in visitor spending.

This event has rotated among various cities for the past 50 years, but 2007 was the first year that it moved off the North American continent.

At first, many were skeptical that Hawaii's beaches would detract from our conference's mission. But rather than surf and sun being an inconvenient mix with business, our attendees and exhibitors found that it was actually an advantage that helped higher-quality business get done — and get it done more pleasantly.

As Nancy Friedrich, editor of Microwaves & RF Magazine, wrote in her July 2007 article “;Hawaii gets a thumbs up after all”;: “;Despite slower foot traffic, many companies still gathered their usual amount of leads, without having a lot of superfluous conversations and collecting a bunch of useless business cards. Even if an employer only sent one person to the exhibition ... that person is the only one who would have turned out to be a true lead for a given exhibitor anyway.

“;At the end of the day, business still got done ... why not Hawaii? Why not a true boondoggle? We are part of a valid industry that has been successful for decades. It is about time we celebrate a little.”;

IMS 2007 set two records in the 50-year history of our conference: We had the second highest number of technical paper submissions, and the highest number of accompanying guests. It's no coincidence that these business-oriented and pleasure-oriented records occurred at the same time.

In my line of work, engineers typically travel to conferences alone. Holding this event in Hawaii, however, enticed engineering attendees to bring their families for pre- and post-conference vacations, taking advantage of Hawaii's family-oriented appeal. They saw no reason not to mix business and pleasure ... as long as the business got done.

IEEE, the international governing body that sponsors our conference, was so happy with the 2007 event that it already approved its return to Honolulu in 2017. Conferences of this size are typically booked up to 10 years in advance, with very stiff competition between cities to serve as the host venue.

Our state is blessed with surf and sun, so why not leverage and market these attributes to bring this competitive convention revenue to Hawaii?

Business can be conducted in paradise.

———

Wayne Shiroma is a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He served as general chairman for the 2007 IEEE MTT-S International Microwave Symposium.