Hawaii Needs to Broaden its Tourism Brand

[Published in Pacific Business News on August 15, 2008]


The decrease in visitor arrivals to Hawaii during the last months is causing considerable and understandable worry among the local tourism industry. At the moment, it is not clear how long the downturn will last and what the extent of the crisis will be. The important questions right now are what types of steps need to be taken in order to see the return of the previous numbers of visitors and how the industry can turn the crisis around as quickly as possible. Of course, Hawaii is not the only destination that suffered from a tourism crisis during the past several years. In the recent past, we have witnessed several serious crises in strong tourism brands, like New York City, Washington, D.C., London, Madrid, Israel, Turkey, Singapore and Thailand. It is worthwhile to see what Hawaii can learn from the strategies that these places adopted in order to resolve their crises and bring back the tourists.

Recovery plans

After completing an in-depth research project where we analyzed most of the tourism-related crises around the globe during the last several years, my colleague and I discovered 24 primary strategies that places can utilize in order to restore their positive image and bring back the visitors.

In addition, we realized that destinations that adopted successful recovery plans all had certain common elements to their plans, including research to define their target audience and a thorough understanding of the nature of the crisis and their relative marketing strengths. They collected data from surveys on consumer behavior, established indicators for campaign success, and allocated resources for advertising, public relations and promotion. Cooperation among all the local factors involved in the tourism industry was another key element of success, as was learning from the experience of other places that dealt — successfully or not - with similar crises. Our conclusions can be very useful to those charged with solving Hawaii’s current tourism crisis.


Hawaii, as we know, is a strong brand among various target audiences. At the moment it does not suffer from an image crisis, so there is no need to create a new series of expensive advertisements beyond those that are currently running. The problem, according to most assessments, is not with the marketing of Hawaii or with its perception among the target audience.

On one hand, this is good news because restoring a destination’s negative image is very difficult to achieve. On the other hand, ruling out a negative image hints to us that the current crisis is beyond the state’s control and influence. The primary reasons for the crisis are the economic situation in the United States and the cost of air travel, which have gone up steeply because of the rising price of fuel. Thus, we are dealing with external factors that are not connected to the way the state is perceived.

More than promotion

In order to solve the crisis, Hawaii can adopt several strategies that have been used in the past by other destinations. Promotion, which is currently under way, is only one of the steps. It needs to continue, but there are other actions that the Hawaii tourism industry should take in both the short and long term.

In the short run, there is a need to concentrate on preventing the cancellation of flights and cruise lines and the removal of Hawaii from tourist industry publications produced by tourism wholesalers. In addition, local tourist professionals have to get creative when it comes to lowering prices and offering freebies. After the events of Sept. 11 when tourism to New York City dropped dramatically, the tourist industry got proactive and distributed free tickets to Broadway shows, concerts and other cultural events, and lowered taxes on tourism services. Other ideas in this vein include offering airlines incentives to keep flying and lowering prices of hotels and other tourist services. Such initiatives will compensate visitors for the high cost of their flight tickets to Hawaii.


One of the key lessons learned from our research of tourism crises around the world is that in order to succeed, there must be a high level of cooperation among all the factors involved in the local tourism industry. This includes the obvious — airlines, hotels, tourist attractions, car rental companies, etc. — as well as local government, citizens and academics. Representatives of these bodies should ideally create a forum to manage the destination’s image and undertake long-range planning. The forum would keep track of trends in Hawaii’s image and build a program to cope with future crises, be they the result of natural or man-made disasters. I would suggest to such a forum that it is worth enlarging Hawaii’s tourism brand. While it is true that the current brand is very strong, it is centered on a field — sea and sun tourism — that is highly sensitive to crisis and that has relatively low audience loyalty. Because there are so many alternatives for sea and sun destinations, potential visitors are quick to search for less-expensive options.

Expanding the brand

Tourism forums of this type comprised of many invested parties in the corporate and public sectors often deal with the task of expanding the destination brand beyond the sea and sun image. To do this, they court conference organizers, festival and sports promoters, and niche tourism operators such as eco-tourism or extreme tourism. Another task for the forum would be to look into expanding marketing into new areas, based on the falling value of the dollar.

To summarize, there is no need to panic about the reduction of tourists to Hawaii. Instead, thinking logically and looking at the solutions implemented by other destinations can be the key to ending the crisis. The right combination of leadership, resources wisely allocated, strategic planning, research and cooperation can surely lead to the return of better days for Hawaii tourism.



Interested in learning more?

The official website of Eran Ketter (PhD)

Tourism marketing research by Eran Ketter

Destination marketing books by Eran Ketter

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Media Strategies for Marketing Places in Crisis

Tourism destination marketing book by Eli Avraham and Eran Ketter