Tourists aren’t just visitors

The first tenet of successfully marketing a good product is to know your customer.

The hospitality industry in the islands has evolved from sun, sea, beach and beds into a more complex business to serve tourists who plan vacations with specific goals that go beyond the resorts. The picture is further complicated by a significant percentage of visitors who stay for weeks at a time.

In the beginning, Maui’s planners talked in terms of luring FITs, that is, free independent travelers, folks with deep pockets and time to spare. They really had no choice. Until direct flights began arriving on Maui, Maui’s visitors had to have the cash and time to first fly to Honolulu, transfer to an interisland airline and spend more than a few days enjoying our home.

Aiming at the FITs and stay-awhile tourists, Maui invested heavily in luxury resorts and condominium apartment buildings. Today, with the change in vacation emphasis away from simply getting away, it is possible to break down Maui’s moneymakers into four distinct groups — ecotourists, anthrotourists, voluntourists and escapists.

Ecotourists are interested in exploring and enjoying natural environments. They flock to the beach, enjoy snorkeling, diving, camping, back roads, Haleakala National Park on the mountain and in Kipahulu, Iao Valley, hiking, bicycling, etc. Anthrotourists want to know about Hawaiian culture and how locals live. They visits museums and ask questions and would love to be invited to local gatherings. Voluntourists — thanks to Ka’aina Kealoha for the word — would like to spend time working with and for Maui in all sorts of projects. Escapists are, well, just escaping lives elsewhere. There may be a fifth group, exertourists, folks interested in outdoor sports.

Anyone conversant with Maui can easily see the attractions and detractions for each of the groups. Satisfying the wishes of all the groups will also satisfy the wishes of most residents and make Maui competitive with other sun, sea and sand resort destinations.

( Publisher’s Note: This editorial was written about a decade ago by our late colleague Ron Youngblood. We think it captured and predicted the variation in our visitor industry that has — and continues — to fuel its growth.)

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.