Hawaii Travel Brand Confidence Eroded Amidst Bungling

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.

75 thoughts on “Hawaii Travel Brand Confidence Eroded Amidst Bungling”

  1. I understood testing to keep Hawaii safe, but when a traveler followed the rules and was tested by “Hawaii’s” trusted partner and ,through no fault of the traveler, the result came back late, but before the plane landed in Hawaii the passenger was quarantined, or denied entry to that healthy traveler they went too far. The State does have a right to impose health restrictions, but how did they get the authority to quarantine, or refuse entry toa healthy American That sent a very poor message.

  2. Nancy M: I agree. We went in May and September and neither Kauai nor Maui were the same. We visited both islands each time. A bit more Aloha in September, but very resentful in May.

  3. We have been going to Maui for 30 years. We did go last January and of course it was strange. The main concern though, was for the first time ever. We were not well received by the local people and
    Some were just rude. We are coming again in Jan to the Big Island and Maui… we understand the tourist issue as we live in a tourist state as well. And tourists can be annoying, but they bring in the $$. We are always kind and considerate and looking forward to visiting soon.

  4. I had clients return recently from 2 weeks on Maui and their response – “Not the same Hawaii”. I will wait for a while and see if Hawaii get’s their act together before I send more clients.

    Thank you for keeping us updated about the constantly changing Hawaiian rules.

  5. I have been following the covid yoyo of Hawaii regulations mostly through your site and I greatly appreciate the breakdown in confusing rules you have tried to explain.
    I recently travelled mainland. Pre-outgoing flight I thought I had done everything I was supposed to, mainly because I succeeded in getting the all important QR code or so I thought from safe travels. It was a bleeping mess at LAX and I will leave it at that.

  6. With this editorial piece (and publishing reader’s comments) the BOH demonstrates once again it isn’t in anyone’s pocket nor fearful of publicly calling the field of play as they view it.

    Given today’s political and social climates it takes uncommon character and courage to do such, especially considering the local impact of the subject matter.

    Thumbs up BOH.

    1. Hi Heyward.

      Thanks very much for your kind words! We appreciate your more than 100 comments.


  7. We are in kona for two weeks, leaving tomorrow november 17, 2021. We had a wonderful time stayed at the royal kona and the staff is tremendous. We will go back sometime.

  8. Never been happier to have a time share than now. No resort fees!! I go primarily to visit family but have noticed a definite shift in the Aloha spirit. I recommend choosing other vacation destinations for the next year or so, where your presence (and dollars) will be more appreciated.

    1. Sherri,

      It’s not terrible yet, but my Waikiki timeshare has a low resort fee (I’m sure they’ll increase it every year). My policy on resort fees: if it doesn’t have an onsite restaurant, a swimming pool and an onsite golf course it’s not a resort, it’s a plain vanilla hotel.

      BTW, been coming to Hawaii since 1965 and this was our last planned visit. Sold the 2-bedroom timeshare to my wife’s niece for $1/week. Such a deal.

  9. It seems that Hawaii has reduced itself to the level of a theme park with the fees for visitors only and the high prices. We used to love going there, but now i don’t think quite as much of it as I used to.

  10. I was in Kauai from 10/20 thru 11/3 and never experienced anything but warm hospitality from restaurants and shops. They are desperate for travelers to return. Yes, its was near impossible to get dinner reservations but all other adventures were fine. I love Kauai and will return again.


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