Focus on Families

In the face of economic woes, Oahu stresses its value to families

By: By Karla Aronson

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Back in the 1970s, "The Brady Bunch" television show ventured to Hawaii for the filming of a three-part episode, showcasing the 50th state as a great family getaway. Today, the islands continue to depend mightily upon the family market. In fact, about one-fifth of Hawaii’s overall U.S. visitors are families, defined by the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism as one or more adults traveling with children.

Officials feel Hawaii’s diversity of family experiences is a key marketing advantage. // (c) Oahu Visitors Bureau
Officials feel Hawaii’s diversity of family experiences is a key marketing advantage. 

For years, Hawaii has remained high on many families’ travel wish list. A recent annual survey by Travel Leaders ranked the islands of Oahu and Maui among the top five U.S. vacation destinations, following Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla.

"The family market has been a mainstay in our state for a long time," said Hawaii tourism liaison Marsha Wienert.

But what about clients who are facing financial uncertainty during these troubled economic times? Will they book, postpone or even cancel their family vacations?

Wienert also noted the threat Hawaii faces from increasingly competitive destinations.

That’s why, said Wienert, Hawaii’s visitor industry must relentlessly underline its core marketing strengths: the natural beauty of the islands, their geographic remoteness in the middle of the Pacific, its unique cultural diversity and its status as the 50th state. In fact, 2009 will mark the 50th anniversary of U.S. statehood for Hawaii. In considering the potential for family visitors, the tourism industry is looking at that milestone as a great educational opportunity for all ages, said Wienert.

Julie Zadeh, managing director of travel trade marketing for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, has been huddling with Hawaii’s top wholesalers on cooperative marketing programs designed to reach the family market. Zadeh suggested that agents work with their preferred wholesalers to learn about all of the available family offers, such as second room discounts, guaranteed connecting rooms, condos and condo hotels and properties that have children’s programs and pools.

"The number-one challenge I hear from travel agents is that their clients are comparing Hawaii to destinations that offer all-inclusives," said Zadeh. "Agents need to get the message across that Hawaii has so much to offer above and beyond a great resort experience. In Hawaii, families have the freedom to explore the entire destination and
enjoy the diversity of each island experience.

"I’ve noticed airfares coming back down recently, but the most effective tool is package pricing," Zadeh continued. "The best tool is for agents to focus on sharing the entire package price — not just the air — in order to demonstrate the value in the total vacation package."

Zadeh pointed out that with many properties offering free nights, food and beverage credits and two-for-one activities, there’s never been a better time for families to experience Hawaii.

The Oahu Visitors Bureau is reaffirming this message.

"Families come to Oahu to experience the cultural traditions, natural beauty, history and aloha spirit that can only be found in Hawaii," said Oahu Visitors Bureau executive director Les Enderton. "It’s a destination that will leave the family clientele happy, as the experiences found here are exotic and culturally unique, even though Oahu is part of the United States."

Enderton added that the investment of $3 billion that has been pumped into the redevelopment of Waikiki in recent years makes this an exciting time to visit and see the changes as well.

Putting things into the bigger perspective of the current economy, Wienert remarked that Hawaii has weathered downward trends in the past, and will survive this one too. Zadeh remained focused on the positive.

"Hawaii is affordable," she said. "Hawaii is not an indulgence. Hawaii is an unbeatable value when you consider what a vacation means to mind, body and spirit."

And to families.