Taking on the state's top issues at the Hawaii Roundtable

HONOLULU — Following last month’s Travel Weekly Hawaii Leadership Forum at the Sheraton Waikiki, nine advisors, hoteliers and wholesalers gathered to discuss some of the biggest tourism issues facing the Islands.
Travel Weekly editor in chief Arnie Weissmann moderated the Hawaii Roundtable, which covered a variety of topics, including resort fees and malama programs. Here are some of the highlights from that session. (The exchanges have been edited for length and clarity.)

The tourist-resident relationship

Susan Ogden, executive vice president, Gogo Vacations/Liberty Travel: I really do believe it requires the infrastructure and the commitment of Hawaii to put together an educational program that is not just dabbling in marketing collateral and things. It’s really about a change in how you’re marketing the destination and creating that infrastructure within that allows a focus on responsible tourism.

We have an obligation to do that as tour operators, and I think, speaking for myself, there’s certainly an opportunity to package and create some really unique things.

John De Fries, president and CEO, Hawaii Tourism Authority: If Hawaii is going to continue to do tourism at this scale, we need better infrastructure. We need better systems. If there are 2,000 people at Hanauma Bay, none of us want to be 2,001, right? That goes for whether we’re a resident or a visitor. So I think on our end, infrastructure is really where we need to move.

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Ray Snisky, group president, ALG Vacations: It is very difficult, easier said than done, but I think there has to be a holistic plan of where do you want to be? We want to preserve with malama, we want to care, and I think customers today are very resilient. They’ll adapt to different things, and they genuinely care — maybe not all, but a good number of them. 

I think there’s a lot more authenticity coming from the people of Hawaii now, and all the terminology and so forth. And I mean this with the highest degree of respect, but I don’t know how to take that presentation and put it into our distribution to benefit from it. 

Kama Winters, president, Delta Vacations: One of the most tactical but easy to understand items from the forum was the last presentation about the pledge [a pledge partnership program created by the nonprofit Kanu Hawaii organization that gives businesses a way to give back to Hawaii]. That concept is something that could be translated more easily to customers, and it’s one of the simpler ideas.

Malama Hawaii programs

Melissa Krueger, CEO, Classic Vacations: When we first started talking about malama, it was what people wanted, right? The people are negatively impacted by overtourism or tourism, and they like [how conditions were during] this period of Covid. Let’s say that we all perfectly executed malama, and everybody plants a tree; I don’t think residents are going to be that much happier. They’re just going to have people planting trees in their backyard.

I think it’s important, I think it’s valuable, but what do the people want? 

Camille Olivere, chief sales officer, Globus family of brands: I think you hit it; we need a concrete answer to how we do this. 

As an example, when [Globus goes] to Cambodia on the rivers, we go into schools, we bring school supplies, we have a women’s recovery area where they make bracelets. We’ve employed people there, and we give those items to passengers as gifts on our ships. So there’s lots of ways that we can integrate with [locals].

I, at least traditionally, haven’t viewed Hawaii as a place where maybe that’s even needed or wanted. But certainly, if there are needs and wants, if we can help make a positive impact, we love doing that kind of stuff. And our guests love doing that.

Jack Richards, CEO, Pleasant Holidays: We’re one of the largest activity providers in the state. We do ecotours, we do malama tours. People don’t sign up for them that frequently because they don’t know about them, and they don’t know what they’re intended to do. And the most frequent question we’re asked by my sales team when we sit around and discuss malama is, “Jack, how do we know if it’s working? What are we trying to do? Are you trying to limit the tourists to 5 million people a year? Are you trying to improve resident sentiment 20% to the good or just raising the prices — and then people won’t come?”

Sean Dee, executive vice president and chief commercial officer, Outrigger Hospitality Group: Malama has a campaign, a messaging campaign and platform, and I think it’s not as consistent as it could be. But we’re all on board. The supplier industry, we support it. The airlines supported it — if you’re flying Hawaiian, you’re getting that video message; Alaska has their Pono Pledge. 

The travel community’s gotten together. I don’t know how many have signed up for malama on the hotel side, but it’s in the hundreds of hotels that have initiatives tied to that, so we believe in it. Resident sentiment has actually gotten better.


Arnie Weissmann, editor in chief, Travel Weekly: Jack, you mentioned yesterday that taxes in Hawaii are the highest in the nation.

Richards: The lodging tax.

Weissmann: So I’m assuming that some of that gets earmarked for tourism, is that correct?

De Fries: Two years ago, the legislature decided to sweep it all into the general fund, and we’re still trying to argue the point. [There was] $860 million in [Transient Accommodations Tax collected] last year. Give us our share: Round it up to $100 million for the HTA and convention center and take the remaining $760 million and appropriate it toward natural resources — this much goes to public education, healthcare — so that the resident has a tangible relationship with the benefit.

Resort fees

Weissmann: Ashley, do clients ever ask, “Do you have a place that doesn’t have a resort fee?”

Ashley Hunter, senior vice president of partnerships, Avoya Travel: There’s been a lot of debate on this on the cruising side, but it’s starting to happen a little bit on the resort side, as well, because, OK, what are these fees? Customers don’t want to pay the extra fees, but if you explain what it’s for — for instance, instead of calling it a resort fee it was a keep-our-beaches-clean fee — people would be OK, and they deal with it. But where the advisor is concerned, you are cutting this out from our profitability because that’s going to the hotel’s bottom line, it’s not going to us.

Richards: This became such an issue for us about a year and a half ago. We now, on our website, identify the hotels that don’t charge resort fees. 

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