Just a few short months ago, Hawaii state officials noted encouraging signs of a recovering economy and a once again growing tourism industry, up 9% in the first quarter, over last year. But now, with fuel prices up and the number of Japanese travelers down, the game has changed and the tourism industry is beginning to flounder. Tourism, the state’s largest industry, is currently clinging to a temporary life ring – $3 million in reserve funds that the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) approved to boost marketing efforts and attract more visitors to the Aloha state. But if the HTA fails to target the right markets, the tourism industry, and in turn, the state economy, may sink.
Is the HTA on target or missing the mark?
While they have reportedly increased efforts to areas of Asia and Oceania, as well as select mainland cities, they may be overlooking an entire population of spend-friendly travelers: the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, and Transgender (GLBT) community. According to Community Marketing, Inc’s 12th Annual Gay & Lesbian Tourism Study, the economic impact of GLBT travelers in the US was about $64.5 billion in 2006. With over 80% of GLBT consumers reportedly traveling and spending $500 or more, why hasn’t the HTA reached out to this group and welcomed them to our islands?
It is not clear why the tourism industry has failed to share the aloha with potential GLBT visitors or why some Hawaii GBLT venues have closed their doors. And no one seems to know what became of the website created by the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, specifically for GLBT travelers. But what we do know is that the number of GLBT visitors to Hawaii is dropping.
With the recent passing of the same-sex civil union bill, the number of GLBT visitors should actually be increasing. Now is a perfect time to reach out to members of the GLBT community, invite them to the islands, provide them with more GBLT-friendly services, and give them plenty of reasons to come back.
The Hawaii Tourism Association (HiTA) already has some of the tools – including two websites (gohawaiigay.com and agaytourist.net) and a twitter account with the name “gaytourism” – to begin extending the invitation. What they don’t have is the funding.
If the HTA genuinely wants to attract visitors from a variety of markets to fill the void left by the decline in Japanese visitors, it would be wise to invest in HiTA’s Internet and social networking efforts. And fast. As the summer travel season is quickly approaching and GLBT travelers are setting their sights on alternate destinations, Hawaii is already losing potential visitors and their tourism dollars.
Will the HTA and the state of Hawaii finally invest in a vibrant, money-spending, travel-loving community right here in our own country? The GLBT Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii is hoping to nudge them in that direction via the Democratic party, with a resolution to be heard at the Democratic convention May 6-7, 2011.