Maui offers a perfect match for its visitors from S. Korea

KAANAPALI – Arrivals of South Korean tourists on Maui are growing by the thousands each year, and the Valley Isle offers a perfect match for these visitors and what they are looking for, tourism officials said Monday.

But to retain that growth and to encourage longer stays, those providing visitor attractions and activities should have more Korean tour operators and guides, Korean-written brochures and maps, and more Korean-speaking workers, tourism officials added.

Last year, Maui saw about 44,000 Korean visitors by air – a high-water mark – according to preliminary 2012 statistics from the Hawaii Tourism Authority. In 2011, Maui saw 33,880 Korean visitors; in 2010, 22,169 visitors; and in 2009, 14,081 visitors, HTA statistics show.

As of July, the number of Korean visitors to Maui – 25,000 – had surpassed the annual 2010 total, Terryl Vencl, executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau, told The Maui News. She added that Maui could well see around 50,000 Korean visitors by the end of this year.

Because of the expanding Korean market and interest by Maui’s hospitality industry in helping to meet their needs, the Maui Visitors Bureau and the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development held the workshop “On the Horizon: Visitors from Korea” Monday afternoon at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali.

About 120 people attended the event that focused on visitor data, marketing strategies, Korean visitor likes and dislikes and other ways to cater to the fast-growing visitor group that ranges from honeymooners to travelers looking for value.

Korean visitors are looking for natural scenery, rest and relaxation, and shopping opportunities, said one of the speakers, Emily Kim, marketing director of Hawaii Tourism Korea.

“This is a match that Korea is looking for and what Maui County can offer,” she told the audience.

Those natural features include Haleakala National Park, the island’s top visitor attraction, and the drive through the tropical rain forest to Hana.

About 40 percent of Korean visitors to Hawaii are honeymooners, she said, noting that that sector likes to stay in high-end and brand-name hotels.

“They don’t mind enjoying the good things Maui has to offer,” she said.

According to a Hawaii Tourism Authority Korea fact sheet, hotels on Maui that enjoy the brand-name status and bookings from visitors seeking “romance” are The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua; Hyatt Regency Maui; The Westin Maui Resort & Spa; Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa; The Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui; Grand Wailea; and Hotel Wailea.

The family and package deal travelers may stay at the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, Royal Lahaina and Makena Beach & Golf Resort, the fact sheet said.

Although honeymooners may be a prime market, an executive with Hawaiian Airlines in Korea, Chanho Hong, said Hawaii and Maui should try to focus on other Korean market segments.

“We need other opportunities than honeymooners,” he told the crowd. “It’s so risky.”

The honeymoon market is “trendy,” and the appeal of a romantic getaway in Hawaii could change, he said.

Another focus could be on attracting families to Hawaii and having them extend their stays, especially on Maui, where packages currently include only a day trip to the Valley Isle or a two- or three-night stay combined with stays on Oahu, said Hong, who is the president and chief operating officer of GSA Korea of Hawaiian Airlines, Meebang Air Agencies Co.

Maui marketers could emphasize the beauty of a sunrise atop Haleakala and maybe even a sunset – which would entice visitors to stay more than one night and make multiple stays on the island a must, said Hong, who is responsible for sales and marketing activities for Hawaiian Airlines in Korea.

Hawaiian Airlines has been doing its part to funnel more Korean visitors to the Neighbor Islands. The airline has waived about $9 million in charges – from baggage to connection fees – for Korean visitors who are making connecting flights from Oahu to the Neighbor Islands, he said.

Workshop attendees also got a Korean cultural lesson from Chin Sol Kim, the international coordinator of the Goyang Policy Planning Division, part of the Goyang municipal government of South Korea. This year, Maui County and Maui Visitors Bureau officials traveled to Goyang, a Maui County sister city, and set up a booth at the city’s international flower festival that attracted about 1 million visitors, officials said.

In his talk, Kim said Koreans “hate ambiguous situations” and “plan in advance,” so itineraries should be detailed and planned out. He said Koreans gravitate toward words and marketing tags such as “relaxation” and “safety” and are less enthused over “adventure” and “magic” that may appeal to Mainland visitors.

Maui may be in a “learning zone,” a place where Koreans need to become more acquainted and comfortable before making travel plans. Marketers should try to educate potential visitors more, while luring them to the island, he said.

At the moment, Honolulu may be the more comfortable place for repeat Korean visitors and may attract that sector of tourists better than Maui, he said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at