Air Time

Hawaiian Airlines’ innovative marketing benefits agents

By: Marty Wentzel

An airplane is more than simply a mode of travel. That’s the philosophy according to Hawaiian Airlines promotions director Kirk Smith, who has been dreaming up offbeat promotions and cutting-edge campaigns to keep Hawaii and his airline front-of-mind.

Consider the Honolulu-based carrier’s most recent attention-getter. Hawaiian is serving as presenting sponsor of the Billabong Pro Maui, an annual women’s professional surfing contest held each December. To help generate attention for the sport and for this year’s Dec. 8-20 competition, Hawaiian imported the Billabong Clipper, an authentic replica of the old seaplanes that served Hawaii in the 1930s. After making a water landing in Keehi Lagoon near Honolulu International Airport, the Clipper flew the competing surfers to the Valley Isle. Sporting a Hawaiian Airlines logo from days gone by, the propeller-driven aircraft drew attention to other promotional events as well during its visit to the islands.

Hawaiian supplemented the Billabong Clipper campaign with a paid media schedule “to remind audiences about Hawaiian’s commitment to surfing, and to underscore our legacy of service for the islands,” Smith said.

Efforts like the Billabong promotion build brand awareness, which can help travel agents, said Smith.

“By using the Billabong Clipper to showcase Hawaiian’s long history with amphibious aircraft while promoting surfing at the same time we involve a younger audience in the experience of the islands and bring Hawaii alive for today’s market,” he said. “This generates more business for agents.”

Hawaii and surfing have never been more popular, Smith added.

“Put the two together and you have a selling point for travel agents to use in attracting business from younger, more active customers, with many of them likely to return to the islands for years to come,” he said.

While all age groups travel to Hawaii, the market of travelers in their mid-20s to 30s is of particular interest to Hawaiian Airlines these days, said Smith. He pointed to the results of a recent consumer telephone survey conducted by the carrier in key Mainland departure cities.

“Compared with other carriers serving Hawaii, our airline is seeing a definite trending toward a younger audience,” he said. “We feel this is good for Hawaiian, especially if we can form an affinity with them, so they become loyal customers for our airline and our destination. Hawaii is rich in natural beauty and outdoor recreation, so we hope to encourage this active and vibrant customer to seek out what our islands have to offer.”

Given that potential Hawaii visitors are bombarded by media messages, Smith and his team are continuing to craft promotions to capture clients’ attention through less mainstream outlets. In the near future, for instance, Hawaiian is introducing a free computer desktop accessory in conjunction with the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. After downloading the tool, clients have access to a range of appealing Hawaii-related content on demand, including streaming Hawaiian music, surf cams, weather reports and screen images.


Several recent innovations demonstrate Hawaiian Airlines’ desire to keep current.

In August, it launched a new onboard technology giving passengers the option to pay for in-flight headsets, entertainment systems and beverages with credit cards, HawaiianMiles awards and coupons. Currently on transpacific flights, the service will debut on other flights in 2006.

In November, the carrier added luggage processing to its self-service check-in options. Clients go to a designated area in the ticket lobby, wave their self-printed boarding pass under a bar code reader, and get printed luggage tags and a receipt.

Also last month, Hawaiian placed check-in kiosks in the lobbies of four hotels in Waikiki, including the Outrigger Waikiki, Outrigger Reef, Ohana East and Ohana Maile Sky Court.