A new generation of travelers — those who are ages 25 to 54 — have been discovering Hawaii, and the state’s tourism officials are taking notice. Although safety and price are the top two factors in selecting a destination for all age groups, the factors diverge for this new generation, according to Jay Talwar, senior vice president of marketing for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB).
Whether they are traveling as couples, groups of friends or parents with children, these travelers are looking for three specific experiences:
The first is unique cuisines. “Hello Instagram,” Talwar quips. And Hawaii is up to that challenge, offering locally produced, sustainable, farm-to-table and sea-to-table foods. “We have such an amazing group of chefs and of providers, like farmers and fishermen,” Talwar says.
These travelers are also looking for unique cultures. “The next generation wants to learn about our culture, but they also understand that they change the culture just by coming here, so they want to give back,” Talwar says. For example, there are opportunities to help restore fishponds (a traditional way to harvest seafood in Hawaii) such as an outrigger canoe paddle along Maui’s coastline by Koieie Fishpond Hawaiian Cultural Canoe Tours, the proceeds from which support the revitalization of Koieie Fishpond. And on Oahu, visitors can plant a native monarch milo tree via Hawaiian Legacy Forest at Gunstock Ranch.
Finally, they seek authentic soft adventure, which they’ll find in excursions like Hawaii Forest and Trail’s new tour of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which features the park’s changed landscape since the massive 2018 eruption; and Holo Holo Charters’ walking tour of Kauai’s National Tropical Botanical Garden, followed by a sunset dinner sail.
To reach those travelers, the HVCB has also studied their media habits. “They’re either cord cutters or cable never-beens,” Talwar says, referring to their use of media streaming services like Hulu and Netflix. They also embrace the digital world, he adds, noting that one in six people in that age group accesses the Internet solely with a mobile device. In addition, “video is ruling the world, so we need to tell our story via video that plays well on that size of a screen,” he says.
To that end, the HVCB has changed its internal model “to more and more become a bit of a content studio, sharing the stories of the people of Hawaii who have one foot in Hawaiian culture in the other in contemporary world,” he says.
At the same time, the HVCB is “looking at growth in a responsible way,” Talwar says. “We want to share our values in our marketing — the reasons why we don’t step on the coral in the ocean and why we don’t go off the trail when hiking,” for example.
That attention to the types of travelers who drive tourism and the response to them are in large part what’s driving Hawaii’s growth. In 2017, Hawaii saw its sixth consecutive year of record visitor arrivals at more than 9.4 million — a 5.3 percent increase over 2016 — according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, which provides visitor research and other tourism industry support. And through October 2018, arrivals were up 6.3 percent — to nearly 8.3 million — over the first 10 months of 2017.
Moreover, at press time, scheduled airline seat capacity, which plays a large part in the state’s tourism success, was projected to grow by 5.4 percent year-over-year in 2018. That growth was expected mainly from Canada, the U.S. West region, Oceania and Japan.
The outlook for 2019 looks bright as well. “For the first quarter of 2019, we’re seeing a growth of about 2 percent [in airline seat capacity],” Talwar says, adding that demand is strong. “Our job as a bureau is to maintain demand for new air seats.”
That demand is in large part due to a high visitor satisfaction rating, he says, noting that 74 percent of visitors from the United States are repeat visitors.
While the U.S. West region is Hawaii’s biggest market, the HVCB also sees more opportunities from East Coast markets, specifically New York City and Boston. But “you don’t necessarily need it to be all nonstop flights,” Talwar says. “The idea is to get to the West Coast and then go to any island from there,” he adds referring to direct airlift to each of the major islands from various West Coast gateways.
By Mimi Kmet