Neverbeens, aloners and foodies: future Hawaii visitors


You can’t interview a bunch of tourism marketing specialists without picking up some of the lingo of the trade. This morning at the Hawaii Convention Center, I spoke with the same people who today are briefing hundreds of hoteliers, airline executives and other people who work in the hospitality industry. I learned some new terms.

Of the three terms in the headline of this blog post, the only one I was already familiar with was “foodie.” Culinary tourism is a “thing” these days. People like to eat well on vacation, pretty much without exception, but foodies take it a step farther: they want a new culinary experience. Hawaiian Regional Cuisine provides it. That’s a growing part of the pitch made to prospective visitors to the islands.

“Aloners” sounds like loners but the difference is important. A loner wants to be alone. An aloner is a single person who travels alone but may hope to meet one or more nice people in their destination. And, yes, maybe they are also a loner, but that’s not the key thing. The key thing about an aloner, who is usually a millennial, is that she or he does not (yet) have someone dear enough to them to travel with them, so they book a single ticket and seek out their own experience. Clearly you market to such a person differently.

Three out of four visitors to Hawaii have been here before. Two third of our visitors have been here several times previously. Turn that around, and luring one new visitor may often create many future visits. Now you can figure out the term “neverbeens,” and you can understand why our tourism marketing people are going after them. I’m glad they’re looking for new visitors but I love those repeat visitors, because they’re the ones mostly likely to have learned to love the same things we all love about Hawaii.

Hawaii tourism marketers have always tried to target their efforts on people who seemed most likely to warm to the idea of a vacation in Paradise. When I first began covering the beat in 2001, I was struck by the fact that the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau had three kinds of movable exhibits, a big one for general purposes, a second one especially for bridal conventions, and a third one especially for golf conferences. Since then each successive management of marketing efforts has spoken of more smartly targeting tourism marketing expenditures, and each one has gotten a little better at it.

A running theme for two decades has been the emphasis of cultural experiences. You can’t learn about Native Hawaiian culture in Cancun or Cabo or the Caribbean. Susan Webb, who markets Hawaii from Toronto, puts it another way when she notes that Canadians love their festivals – I once saw a busker’s festival in Halifax, with people riding unicycles or breathing fire or juggling or singing on every street corner – so why not promote all the Hawaii cultural festivals to Canadian visitors?

Because you want a repeat visitor to look forward to further visits, it becomes important to encourage our guests to explore different islands. This has lately been a great benefit to the Big Island, which has newly-improved hotels on the Hilo side, a proliferation of festivals on all sides, and, ever the star of the show, lava: Nature as a going concern. All hail the firehose!

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