After Hawaii’s prolonged shutdown, travel has definitely returned. We see it in the traffic, in stores, at the beach, and in a plethora of other ways. But the return has been problematic, and it isn’t clear what’s next. And there are a lot of bad feelings that have been created, unlike anything we’ve experienced before.
This past summer saw a Hawaii travel resurgence far greater than anyone anticipated. It began in March and then was off to the races in June. By then, visitors felt safe again traveling to Hawaii, and travel confidence was strong.
But come August, travel has been more start and stop rather than all-go. We barely had time to catch a breath when things shifted again dramatically. Due to the unexpected rise of the Delta variant, travelers again started canceling trips or postponing them to later in 2021 or into 2022. And while the governor asked them not to come, that did nothing to actually curtail fall travel.
The Hawaii travel brand has suffered due to its inability to strategically manage the unavoidable fits and starts.
Hawaii has been full of off-putting communication with its visitors, from that August message when the governor said to stay away for two months to his latest invitation to return, and the implementation of inconsistent island-by-island COVID rules and daunting future island tourism management plans. Not to mention other factors, like conflicting messages from the governor and lieutenant governor, or skyrocketing prices in car rentals, accommodations, and visitor taxes and fees. And one thing is clear; no one knows what’s ahead in any of these areas.
In a sidenote related to costs, we heard today from regular Paul, who said: “I have been to Hawaii 10 times – a week in Waikiki and a week in Maui each time. The last time we were there was 2019… When I checked out the rates they are double what we paid in 2019. If this is the way you trying to cut down on visitors well it worked for me. Sorry to say goodbye.”
Hawaii, choose your words carefully.
Marketing of Hawaii tourism is remiss in not addressing the value of visitors and tourism in general to Hawaii and communicating that message clearly across its marketing channels. At the same time, we recognize that tourism demands must dovetail with Hawaii’s broader needs related to COVID, the impact of tourism, and how to manage it.
Hawaii hasn’t been strategic in its messaging about tourism during the various phases of the pandemic.
The state failed to message evenly and appropriately about its closing, reopening, and since then the various measures implemented for pre-travel testing and vaccination, or rules for restaurants, hotels, and events. Visitors are left trying to figure it all out. We’ll say this, and we do Hawaii travel daily. It simply isn’t easy to understand Hawaii’s rules. Just read some of the comments. It may be navigable but is confusing at best.
How the Hawaii travel brand has dealt with a wide range of beliefs about vaccination and testing has never been proactive and has done nothing in terms of brand advocacy in a sea of travel destination choices. That too can be read in hundreds of comments from visitors saying how they are being treated. There is much truth to the lack of forethought, among other things, in Hawaii’s communications.
We can’t recall a single message from the state that they appreciate our visitors, want to ask for their understanding and acceptance during the past year and a half, and now, sincerely want to welcome them back.
Hawaii brand confidence is eroded.
Visitor confidence in Hawaii has been damaged. To what degree, only time will tell. The state is either unaware of that or doesn’t care. The state is headed by a governor who has had no travel experience and comes from a technical background in telephony.
Hawaii must understand the real concerns of its travelers so that it can generate positive communication that doesn’t add to the frustration of potential visitors.