Party Planning

Hawaii's many special events help to boost visitor numbers throughout the islands

By: Marty Wentzel

Hawaii Tourism Authority officials believe that special events are a great way to draw out-of-towners to a destination. With that in mind, the government organization charged with overseeing the state’s visitor industry is funding more than two dozen festivals and sports contests this year.

Frank Haas, HTA vice president of tourism and marketing, said his group supports activities that generate media exposure and bring people to Hawaii.

“We choose events that represent local culture and expose people to the beauty of the islands,” said Haas. “We prefer activities in a prototypical Hawaiian setting.”

Hawaii can boost visitor counts by positioning festivals during traditionally soft tourism periods, Haas said. For instance, HTA is considering creating a state-funded “season of the arts,” when art exhibits and live shows would be offered during anticipated visitor slumps.

For 2003, HTA allocated $1.1 million to 10 major festivals. According to Haas, the following events are expected to draw an estimated 1.1 million people by the end of this year:

Honolulu Festival, March 14-16 (Oahu), highlighting ethnic harmony between the people of Hawaii and the Asia-Pacific region. This year’s offerings included cultural exhibits, street performances and a parade.

Volcano Party Festival, April 25-May 3 (Oahu, Maui), an HIV/AIDS fund-raiser promoting Hawaii as a gay-friendly destination. Participants play tourist by day, then attend parties, dances and shows each evening.

Pan-Pacific Festival-Matsuri in Hawaii, June 6-8 (Oahu), introducing Hawaii to the richness of Japanese culture. At last month’s festival, visitors enjoyed traditional Japanese performing arts and a Pan-Pacific hula show.

Maui Film Festival at Wailea, June 11-15 (Maui), with movie premieres, celebrity appearances, Hawaiian entertainment and food events. At the 2003 festival, celebrity guests included actor/director Rob Reiner, actress Geena Davis and actor Adrien Brody.

Hawaii International Jazz Festival, July 18-26 (Oahu, Maui), featuring concerts, classes and jam sessions by top entertainers. Now in its tenth year, the 2003 HIJF lineup includes pianist Makoto Ozone, guitarist Larry Coryell, vocalist Tierney Sutton and trumpeter Tiger Okoshi.

Maui Writers Conference and Retreat, Aug. 28-Sept. 1 (Maui), where aspiring writers rub elbows with high-profile editors, authors and agents. Among the writers speaking at MWC 2003 are Sherman Alexie, Ben Bova, Diane Mott Davidson, Tess Gerritsen, Tami Hoag and Gerald McDermott.

Aloha Festivals, Sept. 12-Oct. 25 (statewide), celebrating Hawaii’s culture and history through a variety of venues, from concerts and sports to parades and parties. The six major islands get into the act, each with its own Royal Court (residents of Hawaiian ancestry wear the colorful garb of the early kings and queens).

Hawaii International Film Festival, Oct. 31-Nov. 9 (statewide), presenting top films from Asia, the Pacific and North America, with seminars and receptions with the filmmakers. The multi-island event, which screens movies in two dozen theaters, drew a total audience of 65,000 last year.

Big Island Festival, Nov. 5-9 (Big Island), celebrating the diversity of the island through its food, wine, music, sports, spas, products and people. Highlights of last year’s inaugural BIF included elaborate evening gatherings with meals prepared by celebrity chefs.

Korean Centennial Celebration, throughout the year (statewide), inspired by the culture and history of America’s first Korean immigrants. On Oahu, for instance, clients can attend public lectures and workshops with key Korean artists and see their work in various Honolulu galleries.

Meanwhile, HTA has invested $585,000 to support sporting events this year, including golf tournaments such as the Turtle Bay Championship and Sony Open (Oahu); PGA Grand Slam (Kauai); Mercedes Championship and ConAgra Championships Skins (Maui); and MasterCard Championship (Big Island).

Other HTA-funded sports events in 2003 are the NFL Pro Bowl and Xcel Surf Pro Contest (Oahu); three deep-sea fishing tournaments and the Ironman Triathlon (Big Island); and the Maui Invitational basketball tournament, Maui Marathon and King of the Air kiteboarding competition (Maui).

For 2004, HTA is hoping to bring back as many festivals and events as possible to maintain continuity from year to year, said Haas.

“Next year’s lineup looks to be about the same,” he said. “But we’re always getting new proposals. First and foremost, we’re focusing on presenting quality events that enrich our tourism product.”