Hawaii has a certain mystique about it. For more than a century, the world has admired the Pacific archipelago as a leisure destination for its incomparable tropical beauty, near-perfect year-round weather, relaxed way of life, friendly people and the Aloha Spirit tradition of hospitality. As renowned travel writer and cultural commentator, Paul Theroux once wrote, “Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace.”
For many visitors, however, Hawaii exists as a Hollywood cliché. There are surfboards and psychedelic Hawaiian shirts, a clunky Hawaii Five-0 soundtrack and lei-draped hula girls with hibiscus flowers in their hair. Yet Hawaii has also developed a more commercial side, away from this glamorous American fairy tale. Over the past decade, the island chain has become a magnet for business events, meetings and incentives, successfully marketing itself to both Asian and mainland North American groups as the crossroads of the Pacific – the perfect geographic link between East and West.
In the 1960s, Elvis Presley may have crooned, “Dreams come true in blue Hawaii” over a slack-keyed guitar, but the island’s dreams and aspirations in 2011 are just as likely to be tinged by the exchange of green dollar bills as the blue swash of surf. After all, business within the business events sector is flourishing.
“When you consider all the components needed to host a successful business meeting, the combined impact that Hawaii offers with its universal appeal and amenities as a destination is unmatched,” says John Monahan, president and CEO of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB). “Hawaii has developed an outstanding and hard-earned reputation as a superb business meetings destination. We’re committed to building on that legacy of service.”
Of particular significance to event planners is the variety of destinations that this coral-fringed archipelago is able to offer corporate groups. For starters, the six major islands – collectively known by the ancient Polynesians as the “heavenly homeland of the north” – all have similar characteristics, yet each presents a different meeting experience. From Kauai, Oahu and Maui to Molokai, Lanai and Hawaii (Big Island) itself, America’s 50th state has an abundance of exhibition spaces, hotel accommodations, leisure activities and statewide facilities to suit even the most diverse of groups on conferences, meetings, conventions or incentives.
“It’s definitely one of Hawaii’s biggest selling points in attracting both new and repeat business,” explains Michael Murray, vice-president of sales and marketing for corporate meetings and incentives at HVCB. “We have the complete destination package and our meetings infrastructure is ideal for hosting groups of all sizes, whether it’s 25 senior executives for a conference or 30,000 attendees for an annual convention.”
According to local DMCs, there has also never been a better time to hold a business meeting in the islands. The weather year-round is nearly perfect, and pre- and post-meeting activities abound. The islands boast world-class spas, 80-plus championship golf courses and a multitude of tours and attractions taking in everything from the more traditional surfing and scuba-diving safaris to volcano tours, helicopter charters and historical World War II excursions. In addition, Hawaii’s Polynesian heritage and multi-ethnic diversity is showcased in displays of culture and arts throughout the state. Along with world-class museums, a top-flight symphony, opera and theatre, hundreds of festivals are held annually celebrating the islands’ culture.
“As much as anything, the past several years have amplified Hawaii’s value as a meetings destination,” continues Murray. “Clients have found that meetings held in the islands consistently provide a proven return on investment, while satisfying their objectives and staying within budget. The prospect of coming here to do business and also enjoy the islands drives attendance, attracts exhibitors, and helps ensure a successful meeting experience. Groups that meet here traditionally score very high in terms of member satisfaction.”
A bridge between East and West
Crucially, Hawaii’s events industry is one of the state’s most important growth sectors. Last December, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), the total number of visitors who came for meetings, conventions and incentives rose by an impressive 47.2 percent from 2009. With strong growth from the state’s top four visitor markets – Western and Eastern USA, Canada and Japan – and an anticipated surge from mainland China, Hong Kong and South Korea predicted for the coming years, the sector is increasingly buoyant.
Joe Davis, SMG general manager of the Hawaiian Convention Center (HCC), observed: “We see future opportunities from the developing Asian markets as the increase flights from Korea show good promise for us, and we recognise the potential for China, although there are still major challenges to bringing large groups to Hawaii. The charter flights arranged for the Chinese New Year by the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) was a great step for us in that market.”
Momi Akimseu, tourism brand manager at the HTA, added: “The total scheduled seats from Asia (excluding Japan) to Hawaii grew by 12.8 percent.
“There may have been a drop in seats due to the discontinuation of flights from Taipei to Honolulu, but then, this was then offset by increased seats from Seoul to Honolulu of more than 35 percent.”
Indeed, more than 20,000 people from nearly 100 countries participated in events last year at the Hawaii Convention Center (HCC), the island state’s flagship exhibition area. The increase in global registration was in part due to the centre’s attendance-building programme, which has been working to develop international attendance from Taiwan, South Korea and China by capitalising on the islands’ location as the central meeting point between North America and Asia.
The other reason for the state’s strong position is Hawaii’s meetings industry has benefited from multi-billion-dollar investment by both the public and private sectors to upgrade the destination on a statewide basis. On Oahu, Waikiki Beach, for example, has been revitalised with an eye-catching beachfront facelift, while resort areas on all islands have undergone extensive renovation to satisfy the demands of the meetings industry.
According to Joe Davis of the HCC, Hawaii will build on these platforms to attract worldwide attention throughout 2011 and the years beyond. In particular, Honolulu will be the host city in November for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) 2011 Leaders’ Meeting – with US president Barack Obama at the helm. “These conventions showcase the extensive interest in Hawaii from countries throughout the Pacific Rim,” adds Davis. “The success of these large international events continues to prove that Hawaii is a place to do serious business across a wide selection of fields and industries.”
However, despite this momentum, Hawaii’s mystical archipelago is often clouded by the expectation that it is a difficult market for the Asian MICE buyer to enter into. While previous event clients – including the International Microwave Symposium and the American Veterinary Medical Association – were concerned that the distance and travel costs might be prohibitive for Asian executives, others predicted that attendees would flock to the beach instead of to their scheduled event. But these doubts – along with the more fundamental concerns regarding language and culture – have proved unfounded.
“It’s correct that the Asian market is still very new to Hawaii but it’s a very big priority for us,” adds HVCB’s Mike Murray. “We have a long and in-depth Asian history here. Our biological and social composition has a large level of Asian influence because so many immigrants came throughout the past 100 years to find labour. These roots provide a huge comfort level to the Asian traveller, which is aided by the large numbers of bilingual staff at our hotels. In fact, Asians haved surpassed native Hawaiians in terms of population.”
MICE and the environment
Since the decade began, Hawaii has become more than just a world-class meetings destination – the islands have evolved into a proven winner in value for groups wanting to make the most of their meetings experience.
On Maui, also known as the Magic Isle, visitors can benefit from a choice of four major resort areas – Wailea, Makena, Kaanapali and Kapalua – offering a range of properties that can host meetings and conventions for up to 3,000 attendees. Of these, the largest indoor hotel meeting space is almost 2,508sqm with a banquet capacity of about 125sqm.
Named “Best Island in the World” in prestigious destination shortlists for many years running, Maui also offers tours to the fabled whaling town of Lahaina, the world’s largest dormant volcano in Haleakala Crater and the gorgeous white sands of Kaanapali Beach. As the locals say, “Maui no ka ‘oi!” – Maui is the best.
“We are seeing a renewed interest in conferences and incentives travel,” says Sherry Duong, director of meetings, conventions, incentives and international sales for the Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau. “Maui County is unique in the fact that it is the only island or part of Hawaii that allows you to travel by boat from Maui to Lanai and Molokai, which increases the options for executives. With the recent rise of corporate social responsibility (CSR), companies are incorporating this element into their team-building activities. Aimed at giving back to the local community, they include painting schools, gardening and cultivating local flora, and the clean-up of the Malama Honokowai Hawaiian settlement.”
To meet new sustainability demands, HVCB has introduced a programme that provides visiting groups with the opportunity to contribute to the ecological preservation of the islands’ natural resources. Business events groups can now work alongside Hawaiian residents on projects that will thrive long after their event has finished. An added bonus is that groups can opt to “volunteer” in the midst of beautiful tropical settings – in places well off the beaten tourist path.
“HVCB’s new CSR programme is an excellent opportunity to connect Hawaii’s non-profit agencies with business and meeting planners who are looking for volunteer opportunities to give back to the community during their stay,” explains Mike McCartney, HTA president and chief executive. “This benefits both our Hawaiian islands and our visitors, who will return home with a memorable and rewarding experience.”
The CSR programme is the newest addition to HVCB’s Added Value Resource Center, a well thought out collection of eight programmes, specifically created for business event planners to make their itineraries more affordable, effective and beneficial. Extending Hawaii’s reach into the Asian market, it now offers translated online meeting planner guides for organisations based in Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan.
Customised to address the meetings needs of Asian countries, the foreign -language guides include vital information about visa requirements, customs and shipping policies for Hawaii-bound events.
Today, its timeless qualities – combined with first-rate meetings and accommodation facilities – have made Hawaii one of the world’s most up-and-coming business events destinations. Ultimately, the Aloha Spirit, which has made the Hawaiian Islands so famous, has become a powerful way to resolve any problem or to accomplish any goal.
As the traditional Hawaiian proverb states: “A‘ohe hana nui ka alu‘ia” , which, put simply, means: “No task is too great when done together”. It’s an appropriate motto for the events industry – and the perfect tribute to Hawaii’s state of grace.
Les Enderton, executive director of the Oahu Visitors Bureau
“Drawing more meetings than any other island, Oahu is home to Honolulu – the state capital and a vibrant, cosmopolitan centre of international commerce – and to the world-famous Waikiki Beach. Waikiki offers numerous resort and hotel meeting properties, which provide a wide range of top-notch facilities to accommodate any group size and budget.
“The crown jewel for the state is the award-winning Hawaii Convention Center. Rising from Waikiki’s edge, it is supported by 10,000 committable hotel rooms for groups within one mile. The centre features an 18,580sqm exhibit hall, the state’s largest ballroom at 3,344sqm, 49 meeting rooms measuring 9,290sqm, and two presentation theatres with tiered seating. It is also an approved foreign trade zone, allowing international clients to bypass airport customs and ship goods directly door-to-door.
“Oahu, particularly Honolulu, is fast-paced by island standards, but has a small-town feel with its ethnically diverse communities, multitude of open park space and popular beaches. Groups will find a seemingly endless list of pre- and post-meeting activities including world-class restaurants, tours, ocean sports, galleries, museums and the only royal palace to house a monarchy on US soil, Iolani Palace.
“Another popular attraction for groups is the historic Pearl Harbor, home to the two battleships that signify both the beginning and end of World War II for the US – the USS Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri Memorial. The latter can be hired out for groups of up to 5,000 people for events and 1940s-style functions, making it one of the most unique venues anywhere in the Pacific.”
Aulani Disney Resort and Spa, Ko Olina, Oahu
Coming online in the next few months, Disney Resorts is opening its first standalone hotel – the first in the world without a theme park beside it. Scheduled to open in August on the Leeward Coast of Oahu, Aulani will have a large number of dedicated meeting spaces including a 1,351sqm conference centre and 3,409sqm of outdoor venues. Groups can also enjoy various activities – trekking through the jungle or up the mountains, pedalling along bike trails or visiting a local pineapple plantation.
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Ka‘upulehu includes a signature Jack-Nicklaus PGA golf course – for pre- or post-event relaxation – while adaptable venues, from beachside to the open-air, lava-rock Hoku Amphitheatre enable meeting planners and organisers to tailor their itineraries for their groups. Interactive experiences are also available at the Ka‘upulehu Cultural Center. The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea has 2,230sqm of meeting and function space opening directly onto ocean vistas, which can accommodate gatherings from 10 to 700. While situated on a private island, the Four Seasons Resort Lana‘i at Manele Bay offers ocean-side splendour atop a rugged red lava cliff. It also offers regular humpback whale and spinner dolphin-watching tours. “We have several world-class Four Seasons resorts,” says HVCB’s Mike Murray. “Even the biggest cities in the world are only lucky enough to have one Four Seasons – Maui on its own has three!”
Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, Lahaina, Hawaii
Last autumn, the Hyatt Regency underwent an extensive US$15-million transformation, debuting updated guestrooms and new restaurants. With more than 2,323sqm of indoor function space, including ballrooms, boardrooms and exhibit areas, the property also boasts a private helipad for VIP guests and a number of activities, including hula demonstrations, catamaran tours and a number of Polynesian-themed musical and drum shows.
Hawaii is serviced by all major airlines and receives direct flights from 20 gateway cities in North America. Air transportation between the islands of Hawaii is provided by Hawaiian Airlines, go! Mokulele, Island Air and Pacific Wings. Korean Air flies direct from Seoul, while All Nippon Airways flies direct from Fukuoka and Tokyo in Japan.
Visit http://travel.state.gov/visa for detailed information on visa requirements.
With its warm and gentle trade winds, mild temperatures and sunny skies, Hawaii has near-perfect weather all year-round. Because of the dramatic variation of Hawaii’s terrain, it’s possible to hit the beach and heliski at the top of Mauna Kea in the same day. Hawaii has only two seasons – summer, from May to September, and winter, from October to April. The average temperature in the islands is about 27?C, dropping to about 24?C during the winter months.
Hawaii is America’s most multi-ethnic society. English is the medium that unites the population, while Hawaiian is the second official language. Japanese and Filipino are also commonly spoken.
Hawaiian Tourism Authority (HTA)
tel: + 1 808 973 2255
Meeting guides are offered online at
Tel: +888 424 2924
Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB)
tel: +1 808 924 0253
Hawaii Convention center (HCC)
tel: +1 703 647 7410
Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau (MVCB)
tel: +1 808 244 3530
China International / Golden Seagull
tel: +1 808 924 1088
Dragon Hawaii Tours
tel: +1 808 591 8988