Fame no substitute
Hawaii and other visitor-dependent states find
healthy tourism demands constant promotion
By B.J. Reyes
Marketing Hawaii sounds like an easy sell: perpetual warmth, a welcoming ocean and mile after mile of sun-drenched beach.
But pitching Hawaii's natural assets doesn't seem to be enough to get people on a plane and out to the islands anymore.
"The stereotype is sand, sun, surf," said Frank Haas, marketing director for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, whose contracting efforts for marketing the islands has come under harsh criticism recently. "We need to tell people all the wonderful things that are here beyond the beaches -- the art, the culture.
"If we don't do that, the consumer has lots of options and they'll go to places that are closer to home and less expensive."
At a time when wanderlust is tempered with fears of terrorism and an uncertain global political climate, Hawaii and other destinations that rely heavily on tourism are finding it tougher and tougher to win visitors over.
"You're constantly looking for new markets and ways to maximize your impact in traditional markets," said Tom Flanigan, spokesman for Visit Florida, the private nonprofit charged with promoting the Sunshine State.
Such marketing isn't cheap.
According to the Travel Industry Association of America, states planned to spend an estimated $554 million for travel and tourism development and promotion in fiscal year 2002-03.
Hawaii leads the way at $56 million, followed by Illinois at $49.7 million and Pennsylvania at $35.1 million, according to the Washington-based industry group.
"To change people's minds about Hawaii does take money," Haas said.
How Hawaii markets itself has come under close scrutiny lately.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority last month announced the breakup of its primary marketing contract, which traditionally was held by the century-old Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau.
The breakup came about after a scathing state auditor's report that said the visitors bureau had "run amok" with state funds. The bureau's top executive resigned.
Tourism authority officials said the audit played no role in its decision to divide the main $35 million contract among the visitors bureau and four foreign companies to market Hawaii throughout North America, Asia, Europe and Australia and New Zealand. The state agency, as early as September, began considering separate regional marketing contracts to break up the visitors bureau's long-held monopoly, officials said.
Critics of the breakup, including Gov. Linda Lingle, have questioned whether five agencies will be able to deliver a unified message promoting Hawaii. But regardless of how it's done, Hawaii, like other states, needs to be aggressive at marketing research and promotion, according to one analyst.
"They absolutely have to," said Pauline Sheldon, a professor of tourism at the University of Hawaii's School of Travel Industry Management. "There's really no way that, in today's competitive market, you can just sit back and wait for people to come to your destination."
Visit Florida's Flanigan agreed. "People don't automatically go anywhere," he said, "especially when times are tough."
Flanigan noted that Jamaica spent $70 million in tourism promotion last year, compared to $19.3 million spent by Florida.
"If anyone wants any proof of what happens when a state, or any destination, decides to totally defund its tourism marketing effort, take a look at Colorado," he said.
In 1993, voters in that state, home of such skiing Meccas as Vail and Aspen, rejected a tax for tourism marketing and promotion. Since then, Colorado has lost an estimated $2.3 billion in annual tourism spending, according to an October 2001 report on the state of its visitor industry. From 1992 to 2000, the state's share of the national tourism market dropped from 2.7 percent to 1.8 percent, according to research firm Longwoods International.
Funding wasn't restored until 2000, when lawmakers approved about $6 million from the state's general fund to promote tourism, said Stephen Szapor, chairman of the board of the Colorado Tourism Office. Since then, the state has spent an average of $6 million a year on promotion and has seen its market share grow to 2.1 percent in 2001 and 2.2 percent in 2002, Szapor said.
"From Colorado's perspective, we have a great state in terms of assets. ... We have a lot of great things to offer," Szapor said. "But if you're not out there telling people about your state, there's enough competitors out there who are."
To Flanigan, destinations such as Hawaii and Florida cutting tourism promotion would be akin to a major soft drink company dropping its advertising.
"Can you imagine Coca-Cola saying, 'Well, everybody knows Coke. ... Why should we spend millions and millions on advertising every year?"' he said. "As soon as they stop spending, Coke will stop being on top of minds. They will lose market share and their competitors will eat their lunch.
"The same thing happens with marketing a tourist destination -- you've got to stay on people's radar screen."