The effort, titled "Experience Aloha: Hawaii on Tour," includes hula dancers, chefs and a virtual reality film simulating a helicopter ride over Hawaii's islands. The events are part of the Hawaiian tourism industry's efforts to cope with escalating competition from rival travel destinations around the world.
"When you look at how competitors are outspending Hawaii, collectively it has a negative impact on our voice in the travel market. But Hawaii has a very powerful brand, and we believe that if we take a very integrated approach to marketing, we can make the most use of our dollars," said David Preece, VP-North America at the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, which oversees the tour and administers the state's $38 million tourism marketing budget.
WEEKEND MALL VISITS
"Experience Aloha" debuted Jan. 28 in Chicago and continues across the U.S. in a series of weekend mall visits in upscale areas of major cities, ending next October in Seattle.
Although targeting higher-income families who are likely to spend more on leisure travel, the events also draw visitors from throughout each city, thanks to local TV, print, radio and outdoor ad support.
The mall tour actually builds on "Aloha Cities," a smaller but successful grassroots marketing program initiated in 1998. "Aloha Cities" was a series of one-day visits to as many as 15 cities a year, promoting the state in public areas with cooking demonstrations, food sampling and visual displays.
That tour apparently helped. After years of declining tourism, Hawaii posted a 6% increase in tourists in 1999. But tourism officials decided an extended tour that could be on the road full time in the U.S. was more cost-effective, said Gail Chew, VP-marketing services at the convention bureau, which also oversaw "Aloha Cities."
The "Aloha Cities" tour is being revamped and will make several visits in major cities outside the U.S. this year; dates and locations haven't been finalized.
Despite its recent success with grassroots marketing, Hawaii has been struggling for several years to stem a trend in which a growing number of upscale and middle-income consumers head for other tropical destinations in the Caribbean or Mexico, which are closer to more U.S. residents and generally more affordable.
Hawaii's own market research shows that its $38 million tourism marketing budget is paltry compared with the amount spent annually by other travel options including Western Europe ($375 million), Caribbean ($314 million), cruise lines as a whole ($204 million) and Nevada ($132 million).
To reverse its declining share of the travel market, state officials established the Hawaii Tourism Authority last year to explore additional channels for increasing tourism. One conclusion has been to promote Hawaii more aggressively around the world, with a special emphasis on Europe, Latin America, Australia, New Zealand and Asia.
"In the past, we've had very good traffic from Australia," Ms. Chew said, "but the number of non-stop flights has shrunk, and in general, we haven't been marketing as well to some of these markets . . . we feel the potential is huge if we begin a more focused marketing campaign to each of these areas."
In addition, Hawaii is undertaking a more aggressive program to target travel agents worldwide with communications as well as special access and privileges at its local marketing events.
"The mobile marketing programs will explode in local markets on a very integrated basis, bringing Hawaii to life for consumers and the trade, and we're doing this in a very strategic way to capitalize on timing, geography, and using preliminary and follow-up advertising to have a big impact on people," Mr. Preece said.
The "Experience Aloha" U.S. mall tour is the biggest marketing effort Hawaii has ever undertaken. Mobile marketing agency M3 Marketing Group, Birmingham, Mich., devised the tour and handles all logistics.
"We know that reaching consumers directly with the sights, sounds and tastes of Hawaii is very effective," Ms. Chew said, "so we wanted to bring a full-scale show to consumers that would draw thousands, not hundreds, of people at every stop."
"Experience Aloha" consists of a main stage offering live entertainment including Hawaiian music and dancing; several videoscreens feature Hawaii's various islands and resorts. A mobile kitchen allows Hawaiian chefs to demonstrate regional cuisine and give samples to consumers. United Airlines is a major sponsor.
GOLF AND LEIS
The exhibit also includes: a golf simulation game where people can compete to hit a ball closest to a pin and enter to win a sweepstakes, with the grand prize of a trip to Hawaii; a flower-arranging and lei-making demonstration area sponsored by the Maui Flower Growers Association; a juice bar sponsored by Ocean Spray Cranberries' Mauna Lai; and on-site promotions from the TV show "Baywatch Hawaii" and Tanning Research Labs' Hawaiian Tropic.
A mobile store sponsored by Hilo Hattie's offers a wide range of merchandise, and Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate also sells its products.
The convention bureau expects to attract more than 100,000 visitors at each stop. TV and radio spots, as well as print and outdoor ads, created by Milici Valenti Ng Pack, Honolulu, follow the tour; Travel Related Marketing, Los Angeles, handles media buying.