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A newly formed group called the Hawaii Tourism Association (HiTA) has some ambitious plans for addressing the state’s ongoing tourism slump, and it is keeping travel agents in mind every step of the way.
According to the group’s founder, Juergen Thomas Steinmetz, the purpose of the public- and private-membership organization is to enhance current tourism marketing efforts for Hawaii. The organization is pinpointing key markets that are interested in doing business with Hawaii tourism, from the Middle East and Europe to India and South Africa. Given the large drop in arrival numbers to the islands in recent months, fresh ideas and new approaches are necessary, said Steinmetz.
The Hawaii Tourism Association wants to help boost travel to Hawaii with the help of travel agents.
"Our message to U.S.-based agents everywhere is that there are different opportunities and niche markets for them to tap into," said Steinmetz, who also publishes the Oahu-based eTurboNews. "We’re not competing with the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB), whose mission is to promote Hawaii. Instead, we’re trying to come up with additional opportunities beyond what the HVCB is doing, and that includes initiatives for agents."
After forming its first executive committee, which will guide the association through its startup and determine its future direction and activities, the group voted to change its acronym from HTA to HiTA, in order to differentiate itself from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, a government organization.
"I was simply looking for a name that met our purpose," said Steinmetz. "When I later realized both groups had the same acronym, we changed ours to HiTA. I trust this will help differentiate these two distinct organizations with complementary agendas."
HiTA has met with elected Hawaii officials and members of HTA and HVCB, all of whom have been receptive to HiTA’s goals, he added.
Along with Steinmetz, HiTA’s executive committee members include Frank Haas, head of Marketing Management, a consulting firm that is developing business, marketing and operating plans for organizations primarily in the Hawaii visitor industry. Haas is the past vice president of marketing for the HTA and former national chairman of the American Marketing Association.
Also on the committee is Denise Moreland of Hawaii’s Cultural Connection. Moreland’s passion is to preserve, promote and share Hawaii’s indigenous culture with visitors.
Rounding out the committee is Scott Foster, who provides marketing communications, political strategy and public-opinion management consultation to musicians and artists and progressive international organizations conducting business in Hawaii.
Steinmetz said the group is off to a great start.
"Our initial international survey garnered overwhelming response and served as an initiative to launch HiTA," he said. "We have received our first monetary contribution, and we had a presence at the International Tourism Exchange — the world’s largest travel trade show — in Berlin."
HiTA also made a presentation to SKAL, a global association of travel industry leaders with chapters worldwide, including Hawaii. HiTA’s information about Hawaii is currently
being circulated with the help of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which has access to 86 foreign embassies and local industry and media networks in those countries.
At the same time, HiTA has started a new online forum dedicated to discussion about anything and everything that pertains to Hawaii and its tourism products. Called
AlohaTalk, it invites subscribers — including agents, tour operators, tourism officials, the media, public relations and marketing organizations and associations from Hawaii and around the globe — to share their experiences and expertise about Hawaii.
"The idea behind AlohaTalk is to facilitate the exchange of ideas for the betterment of Hawaii tourism products," said Steinmetz. Agents interested in joining Aloha Talk, which is free, can do so on HiTA’s Web site.
HiTA recently conducted a phone survey of 50 travel agents on the East Coast, discussing ways that agents can sell Hawaii travel more effectively.
"We’re planning similar phone conferences and educational seminars in other markets," said Steinmetz.
"Travel agents are at the top of our agenda," Steinmetz added. "We want to help them generate additionalrevenue. We’re giving them specific ideas for income sources while helping them provide their clients with better value."