Click here for where to stay on the east side of the Big Island
On the surface, Hilo looks the same as it has for decades: a laid-back Hawaii town with an aura of nostalgia. It’s a place where mom-and-pop shops hold forth next to budding businesses, where the hotels are inexpensive, the bed and breakfasts are gems and where families gather for picnics in the city’s many parks. For some Hilo visitors, the primary perk has been its proximity to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a 45-minute drive away.
There is new energy in Hilo as the
destination promotes its slice of paradise.
(c) Anthony DeLellis
But behind the scenes, positive thinkers are generating unprecedented enthusiasm for marketing the destination in new and exciting ways.
Central to this new optimism is Destination Hilo, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote tourism to the island’s eastern side. In the past few months, big changes have taken place within the group, thanks in part to the inspiration of Uilani Arcangel. Arcangel, who served as the group’s board president, died in June.
“Ui planted the seeds and the broad vision of a revitalized Destination Hilo that would truly live up to our mission of promoting sustainable and responsible tourism,” said Destination Hilo acting board president Anthony DeLellis, “along with the perpetuation and incorporation into the visitor experience of authentic Hawaiian culture and language.”
Embracing that vision, Destination Hilo has been very busy indeed. It has completed construction of a performance stage at the Port of Hilo, where it hosts hula and music performances each day a ship is in port. It has refurbished the port’s Aloha Room, where volunteers answer questions and help cruise guests plan their day in Hilo.
Over the summer, the organization began work on its new Web site, which showcases Hilo and the products and services of its members. DeLellis called the new site “an on-demand and real-time tool for visitors to use both before their arrival and when they are actually here on the island.”
The goal of the new site, he said, is to give potential visitors continuously updated information on current events and special offers from its members.
“It’s important for us to continue to look for new ways to provide value for our members, and to show folks looking to visit the Big Island ... the value and quality of the products and services offered by our members,” DeLellis said.
Meanwhile, Destination Hilo has reached out to its western counterpart at Destination Kona Coast, opening a dialogue on how the two groups can join forces to show every visitor the best that the island has to offer.
“While the idea of a partnership is still in its infancy, we feel that working together will make the Big Island of Hawaii a more desirable and complete experience for visitors,” said DeLellis. “We know that clients often choose to stay on the Kona [west] side of the island for most of their stay, making a trip to Hilo for a day or two to visit the volcano. We want to expose visitors to everything that the east side has to offer, from world-class botanical gardens and museums, top-notch restaurants and unique retail stores to high-quality hotels, reasonable hostels and magnificent bed and breakfasts. The more complete a visitor’s experience is on the Big Island, the more likely that person will choose the Big Island for a future visit.”
In the coming weeks, Destination Hilo plans to expand its greetings services to include arrivals at Hilo International Airport. For its volunteers, tour guides and taxi drivers, it will organize a training session on how to treat visitors with aloha. The group will launch a monthly e-newsletter featuring Destination Hilo products and services, volcano updates, discounts and opportunities for value-added vacations. The e-newsletter will also have links to current events, weather and member Web sites broken down into categories. And, each month it will feature a specific Big Island highlight.
If there was any doubt about the new, positive energy flowing through Destination Hilo, it was dispelled during the organization’s annual membership meeting in mid-August. The featured speaker was Jim Gale, chief of interpretation at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
“For the program, I thought that we needed something fresh, something different,” said DeLellis. “The week before, the Hawaii Tourism Authority had presented its annual conference filled with pie charts showing declining arrivals and bar graphs listing drops in revenue. Ranger Gale was animated and excited about Hawaii. He reminded everyone why we love it here so much, why it is such a unique destination and why we love to share it with visitors.”