Hawaii Ready with War Strategy

Military action also will launch short-term plan to generate immediate business

By: Michele Kayal

HONOLULU Hawaii held its breath as war drew near, bracing for the uncertainty of how hard the state’s largest and most vulnerable industry might be hit.

“We’ve got scenarios from a little blip to a big blip,” said David Carey, chief executive officer of Outrigger Enterprises. “We can decide all day what we think is right, but ultimately it’s hundreds of conversations over the kitchen table and the water cooler and the coffee shop that’s going to determine people’s preferences.”

The Hawaii Tourism Authority last week was preparing to shift from a long-term marketing strategy to a short-term program focused on generating immediate business.

If necessary, said Frank Haas, the authority’s vice president for tourism marketing, the authority might ask the legislature to release some of the $8 million in the tourism special fund for use in emergency marketing efforts.

The authority established a crisis communication center in the Hawaii Convention Center, with telephone numbers to be listed on the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau Web site, www.gohawaii.com.

Haas also said the authority is hoping a delegation of high-ranking business executives and government officials would travel to Japan within two weeks of war to assure the Japanese that it is safe to travel, trying to assuage the kind of fears that kept them away during the 1991 Gulf War.

Already the fear of war has hurt Hawaii’s tourism. The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism recently revised its tourism forecast downward. After a 13 percent increase in January, passenger counts dwindled to a decline of 0.3 percent during the first two weeks of March. Declines came mostly from the mainland, said Eugene Tian, the department’s economist.

Outrigger’s Carey estimated the numbers could sink as much as 25 percent below normal levels for this time of year, depending on how long a war lasts and whether terrorist acts occur.

Meanwhile, Gov. Linda Lingle’s administration has held Hawaii’s threat level at what officials called “Blue Plus,” the federal government’s Blue, or guarded, plus additional measures.

Last week the country went to Orange, or high, alert, but there were no credible, specific threats targeting the islands, said Maj. Charles Anthony, spokesman for the state Department of Defense.

He added that facilities under federal jurisdiction the airports and ports, for example are at the national level.

“It can’t be a bad thing,” Haas said about the unchanged threat level.

But, “we’re careful not to over-promise on it, because you don’t know what it will be a week or two weeks from now.”

Many executives said a quick and decisive war could release pent-up demand and bring a strong summer, but terrorist activity could frighten even willing travelers into staying home.

“We’ll know in about two weeks what’s going to happen,” Carey said.