Thursday, January 14, 1999

Tourism panel
seeks more seats
on airlines for
Hawaii visitors

A study showed there
were few empty seats
on isle-bound planes

By Russ Lynch


The Hawaii Tourism Authority plans to press airlines serving the islands to provide more seats from the mainland, figuring that no matter how much money is spent on tourism promotion it won't do any good if people can't get here.

The authority, meeting yesterday at Honolulu Airport, received study results from the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism showing that in the latest year for which figures were available, 1997, there were few empty seats. Comparing the number of passengers arriving from the mainland with the number of seats available, the DBEDT report figured that mainland-Hawaii flights were 96.1 percent full.

In 1990, the peak year for westbound tourism, mainland-Hawaii flights were 87.6 percent full, leaving plenty of empty seats to sell.

John Reed, Pacific retail development chief for DFS Hawaii and chairman of the 13-member Hawaii Tourism Authority board of directors, said that with westbound flights running more than 90 percent full there are few seats to sell and the state's new improved tourism promotion budget of $50 million-plus may not help.

"If we can't grow the visitor industry, why spend the money?" Reed said.

Airline officials in the past have disagreed with that view, arguing that the number of seats they provide is driven by demand. If Hawaii produces a demand for seats, the airlines say they will provide them.

There are apparently plenty of eastbound seats. The DBEDT report shows flights to Hawaii from Japan and other parts of the Asia-Pacific area running nearly 30 percent empty in 1997.

The Tourism Authority board, which has met once a week since its first meeting in late October, is charged with developing long-range strategic plans and marketing for Hawaii's biggest industry.

The board is moving to hire an executive director, a post that will pay $85,000 to $120,000 a year.

Starwood Hotels executive Keith Vieira, the Tourism Authority board member who heads the selection committee, said the board has received well over 50 applications for the job. The board has set a Monday deadline for applications to be accepted.

In other actions, the board has issued a request for proposals that it expects will lead to a contract with a consultant to develop a long-range strategic plan for Hawaii tourism. Earlier, the board issued a $250,000 contract to the accounting and consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers to report on how well Hawaii's tourism promotion compares to that of competitors in the United States, Latin America, Europe and Asia.

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