Tourism efforts turn to getting people to Maui

KAANAPALI – Every year, Maui tourism and public relations officials travel all around the world to meet with media representatives, travel agents, government officials and the general public to share with them the many wonders of Maui.

Next year, however, officials said the focus will be less on talking to people there and more on bringing more visitors here so that they may discover Maui for themselves.

“Tourism is doing well. It is still moving, . . . but our focus now is spending less time on the road and bringing people here,” said Terryl Vencl, executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau, at the bureau’s 29th annual membership and marketing meeting Thursday.

“When we bring people here and show them around and they meet our people, they fall in love. So that’s a strong focus for us this year,” Vencl said.

The average visitor spent $197.30 per day in the January-June period, whereas last year, visitors spent an average of $180.50 per day, according to the latest figures from the Hawaii Tourism Authority. However, visitors are shortening their stay, 8.13 days in the first half of this year compared with 2012’s average of 8.24 days.

Overall, however, Maui has seen a 3.8 percent increase in visitor arrivals in the January-June period over last year, growing from 1.16 million to 1.2 million this year. This has led to an 11.9 percent increase in total expenditures in the half year compared with the first half of 2012, from $1.7 billion in 2012 to $1.9 billion in 2013.

But growth in tourism has leveled off in recent months, as expected after nearly three years of double-digit gains, Vencl said. The leveling is “not a bad thing” though, she said, because it allows for more time to plan for strategies to maintain a steady flow of visitors.

One of those strategies was featured at Thursday’s invitation-only meeting held at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa and attended by dozens of industry professionals and local business owners. A 90-second video, “Essence of Maui,” featured snippets of Maui’s pristine coastline, historic bridges along the road to Hana, the sun rising over Haleakala and young paniolo chasing after horses in lush Makawao pastures.

Similar two-minute videos featuring Lanai and Molokai can be found online.

Video is just one of the ways to “bring people here,” Vencl said in her presentation. The bureau already partners with media outlets like Conde Nast, National Geographic, Travel & Leisure and The New York Times to reach its target market of travelers ages 25 to 54 who are interested in culture, romance, golf or outdoor recreation.

However, each Hawaiian island is unique and offers a different visitor experience. Because of that, each visitor should be matched to the island that will best suit the type of activities they are looking for, said Jay Talwar of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau.

“We want to build a brand for our islands,” Talwar said at Thursday’s meeting. “We look at the different profiles of visitors to each island, and what we’ve found is that in general, they’re generally the same sorts of people, but they are looking for different kinds of experiences. We’re just trying to get the right people to the right island. If they like to go out at night, they can come to Maui or Oahu. If someone’s idea of nightlife is sitting out on the lanai and looking at the stars, there’s an island for that.”

He offered more specific characteristics for the Valley Isle.

“Maui is a place where you can be spontaneous,” he said. “You can go to beach in the morning and Makawao in the afternoon. You can take your watch off and not have to worry about it until you go back home.

“It’s for people who enjoy living in the moment.”

Talwar also highlighted Maui’s adventurous outdoor activities, interspersing his talk with video of horseback riding and paniolo, snorkeling and hiking.

Talwar said researchers started working on this island-brand campaign about three years ago, figuring out characteristics and attributes of each island and matching them to potential visitors. He said that as 2014 nears, “it is becoming clearer and clearer” as to how to best match each visitor successfully.

The videos, each profiling a different island, are one way to do that, Talwar said, and may be aired on the Travel Channel, BBC America, HGTV as well as YouTube and AdoTube.

“Maui’s tourism is already strong, our visitors numbers are already good and it’s kudos to MVB (Maui Visitors Bureau),” county spokesman Rod Antone said Thursday afternoon. “What we’ve been trying to do is expand that even further. We’ve gotten as much as we can in Mainland U.S. and Canada, and now we want to expand to include emerging Asian economies.”

Representatives from both the Mayor’s Office and the Maui Visitors Bureau and the county Office of Economic Development visited South Korea to take part in the Goyang International Flower Festival in April.

With a hula halau and musicians performing on stage multiple times each day, more than 1 million Koreans were able to visit the Maui booth and learn about the island, Vencl said.

The booth was among the more popular ones at the festival, she added, and won the Goyang Mayor’s Choice Award for Best Booth.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at