Hawaii Spring Travel Slump Points To Tough Uphill Battle

How Hawaii Marketing Just Dissed Almost All Visitors

Based on recent perplexing messaging from the state’s Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) partner, Hawaii Visitor and Convention Bureau (HVCB), unless you are from San Francisco, you may not be exactly the type of visitor Hawaii is looking for. That’s the hard-to-accept claim allegedly made by Hawaii marketing this week.

Did Hawaii marketing intend to disenfranchise visitors?

“San Francisco is one of our major markets because we find a lot of people there who fit our profile…While LA’s population is greater, San Francisco is better composed of what HVCB is looking for.”

HVCB’s Jay Talwar, Senior Vice President of Marketing.

Talwar reported that HVCB is looking for “mindful travelers” and “repeat ones and is finding them more so in San Francisco than elsewhere.” Those are people he characterized as being interested in culture, and the environment, among other things, which is exhibited both in their travel patterns and at home.

Hawaii on the hunt for high-paying visitors.

The HVCB spokesperson, Jay Talwar, said they are not finding what they are looking for in Los Angeles. “SF visitors have the money that Hawaii wants.” We can’t help but wonder why this was even said, but then we thought about the following:

Hawaii’s tourism marketing remains perennially out of step.

That continues to be true, with the defunct Hawaii Visitor And Convention Bureau telling the world that Hawaii prefers visitors from the San Francisco Bay area. As one commenter already stated, “It distracts from the fact that they have failed to market Hawaii as a gem that needs caring for, to educate visitors that they are guests to the islands and need to show respect. This type of program takes work and commitment- two things their leadership lacks.”

Hawaii has long succeeded in spite of players like the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) and this marketing partner Hawaii Visitor and Convention Bureau (HVCB). And when we think things might calm down and start moving forward with them, they always do another about-face.

Then too, the Head of HTA just resigned without apparent reason, while other key positions on their board also changed abruptly. That included Mufi Hanemann returning to HTA and Hawaii hotel legend Ben Rafter leaving, among others.

Based on the fast revolving door at HTA as just one measure, what is clear is that HTA isn’t a good place to work. In the 2023 legislature, lawmakers came to the brink of axing the agency entirely, then pulled back at the last minute. In the end, squabbling HVCB received $38 million for US marketing, while the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement got $27 million for destination stewardship and visitor education.

How Hawaii Marketing Just Dissed Almost All Visitors

Hawaii can’t make up its mind when it comes to travel.

Meanwhile, the UH research arm for the State of Hawaii, UHERO, has long criticized HTA’s Hawaii travel planning. Their comments include: “HTA’s controversial plans tend to marginalize tourists, while at the same time not having the backing of the state or the authority needed to ever be implemented.”

HVCB defies governor and legislators on a $50 green fee.

At odds with both the governor and some legislators’ plans, HVCB said last year that the “Green” fee was “dead on arrival.” However, we’ll see where this ends up in next year’s legislative session as others intend to bring it back. The Green Fee would be collected on all arrivals to Hawaii or more likely, those using state-owned parks. It keeps evolving regarding where and how to implement the fee visitors don’t want to pay and that will end up being used for who knows what.

Hawaii’s messaging to the world remains critical to creating a good visitor and resident experience.

No matter how people feel, in Hawaii or elsewhere, mainland Hawaii visitors remain the state’s primary source of income. All West Coast visitors are a critical part of Hawaii’s visitor demographics.

Here on the ground in Hawaii travel, we don’t discern any significant difference between visitors from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, or Phoenix for example. And together, those two huge California geographies send Hawaii a majority of its visitors in about equal numbers.

Sound off, please. This didn’t sit well with us, and we’d love to hear your thoughts. Only speak for yourself, as comments representing otherwise will not be published.


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220 thoughts on “How Hawaii Marketing Just Dissed Almost All Visitors”

  1. Hello,
    My family is in Hawaii, I have lived there and visit often. Where is the Aloha? the people of Hawaii that do the tourism work need a better livable wage so they don’t have to leave their children at home during major hurricanes. Time to look in the mirror Hawaii. Aloha is measured on how well you treat the most vulnerable in your society, and you failed and left the most vulnerable unprotected. And then dare to shame others, the ones that should be welcomed. shame on you Hawaii, too many tears for those lost. Time for Hawaii to quit judging others and look in the mirror. What have you become? You want others to respect your land and people yet you do not. We come because we love you, your people and your land. Shame. Do better.

  2. Instead of a ‘Green Fee’ how about an infrastructure fee to bring power lines up to standard. This could have been avoided if some of the geen expenditures had been used for hardening and burying power lines. Poor management by Gov and Hawaii Elec. This whole thing is tragic beyond belief. To much green thinking and not enough critical thinking and common sense. You have to ask the question, will adding more wind mills prevent the next fire or will upgrading the delivery grid be a smarter option? We need more common sense solutions and less political driven decision making. Good luck with that. It is, after all, Hawaii.

    1. James,

      I heard the Gov say climate change was at least partly responsible.

      People have to challenge these politicians every time they blame climate change for a disaster or a reason to spend more money on solar/wind power. The more these fail, the more bad Govs, mayors, congressmen, senators, and ignorant presidents will blame the one thing they know nothing about – the climate.

      1. Climate change in this instance is an accountability deflection from a real person – the elected official – to a nebulous ideology that has no address, phone number, or other means of direct accessibility by the citizenry.

        President Harry Truman said “the buck stops here.” However, today’s politician says “don’t look at me, it’s someone or something else’s responsibility.

  3. Thank you so much for your newsletter. I learn important news reach time I read it. We are not wealthy but have prioritized visiting Hawaii at least once a year. I’ve immersed myself in the history, culture and music for 30 yrs. The loss of all those historical pieces in the Lahaina fire have broken my heart. I hope people Dig Deep to donate. What many people may not realize is that a lot of those houses on the streets behind Front street were simple homes that people have lived in for their entire lives ..several generations too. Those hard working people are the heart beat of Hawaiian culture, and so many ways. Please donate.

  4. Being from LA, it doesn’t sit well with me either. Besides being insulting, as you point out, it’s just plane wrong. It’s also wrong headed! I get, and tend to agree, that Hawaii needs fewer “budget tourists”, but saying that those only come from LA is silly.

    1. Joerg, we vacation in Hawaii nearly every year and will spend 16 days there from Sep 14-30.

      I have no idea if there are too many “budget tourists,” whatever that is, or not.

      Hawaii could not survive without a Mix of tourists from budget to extravagant.

    2. Joerg,

      The governor of Hawaii is calling for tourists, no mention of budget tourists staying home.

      As I mentioned before, we will be coming next month. And, on the day after the disaster struck, I made a cash contribution to one of the on-the-ground charities in Maui (The Salvation Army). I hope all Americans will send whatever they can afford to help our fellow Americans on Maui.

      1. CFitz,

        That was a statement the governor of Hawaii made a few days before Lahaina was destroyed. More recently, he’s been asking for visitors without asking the largest group of visitors to go elsewhere.

  5. I’m from Las Vegas and I try to go to Hawaii every year… I love it there… I wonder if residents of those 2 California locations actually make up the majority of tourists going there or is it just the flights since most other starting destinations have a layover in LA or SF first before Hawaii….

  6. I love the Aloha spirit. It is a way of life. Visiting my daughter and her husband. I learned some history of the Islands. If respecting a places culture isn’t for you, don’t go. If you can respect the culture enjoy what the islands have to offer. Beauty, peace, and love!

  7. Having been a vacationer here for the last thirty five years and spending thousands and thousands of dollars find this very offensive .We have always been respected ,considerate visitors who want to preserve the natural beauty of this island and its sea life .To assume only people from a city of squalor cared about this environment is s joke .Better rethink your marketing lest people with money take their money elsewhere to a more welcoming place .

  8. Looks like Hawaii has now caught the elitist viruses that the rest of the nation seems to have acquired. Maui County was one of our favorite destinations, for my wife and myself over the last 20 years.
    We were planning another trip,
    within 2024, but with the turn of
    Island politics, and the recent destruction and deaths in Lahaina Town, we have decided to sit tight, until the dust settles.
    We will be interested to see the results of the final fire investigations, and why there was such a great loss of life in one of the most popular local and tourist destinations in the world…

  9. I understand locals not wanting the islands destroyed, but the thing that is forgotten is Hawaii is a state in the united states. As US citizens we all have the right to visit anywhere in the country. I live on Long Island only a short distance from New York City and we have a lot of tourists too, but none of us are complaining about them. Instead we welcome tourists. They bring money to New York. New York City is very crowded, our beaches and parks are crowded but we don’t tell tourists to stay away. I will be back to Hawaii for the third time in 3 weeks and like many tourists not from California I and my wife will be respectful of the islands while enjoying them.

    1. John,
      This Californian (transplanted New Yorker, South Bronx) will visit with 5 others and stay where we stay every year – the Imperial of Waikiki last 2 weeks of September and a couple of days at the Embassy.

      My first visit (short) was in 1965; since the mid/late 1970s, we’ve come most years. Been to Maui (how terrible the fires are), Hawaii, and Kauai, but Oahu remains my favorite – it has the “big” city yet a little bit of all the other islands as well.

      I have family in Smithtown and East Moriches, out your way.

      Have a great vacation.

      1. Good to see another native New Yorker enjoying hawaii. All of us as Americans should be able to enjoy Hawaii. But of course we should all respect the islands and there citizens.

        1. John,

          I respect the area where I live and do nothing to destroy any of it (SoCal), and won’t treat Hawaii better than I treat my own home.

          Certainly, there are areas of Hawaii that need extra care, and we should always keep that in mind.

    2. Good comments. I love Hawaii and visit often. It seems many Hawaiians don’t like the tourists and don’t feel they need our money but they won’t turn down the federal aid that is coming.

  10. My girlfriend and I have been planning a trip to Waikiki since December. Her last visit to Oahu was, in her words, dismal whereas I really enjoyed staying in a VRBO at Sunset Beach, as well as visiting Honolulu. We both love Kauai and have good memories from Maui. Buuuut I think this might be my last trip to Hawaii.

    We’re staying at White Sands and of course I follow their instagram. A few weeks ago I saw a post that literally said “if you’re not from San Francisco keep scrolling”, which is not particularly inviting when you’re from a city whose real estate prices are through the roof because people from SF wanted cheaper west coast real estate. That’s not the only pro-SF/pro-California marketing I’ve seen but it stuck in my craw.

    I’m also tired of being told that I am ruining the islands by supporting tourism, which makes up 20-ish% of the state’s economy. That particular message was laughable during covid when there were only island residents in Hawaii. We saw so so many stories of beaches and turtle habitat being ripped up by offroad vehicles. It was heart wrenching to read about sacred and burial sites being desecrated by I’m sure the same people who love to get on the internet and tell me (a Native American) I’m the problem with Hawaii’s sacred sites.

    If Hawaii doesn’t want tourism, and specifically doesn’t want my not-San Francisco money, just be honest about it and close the islands.

  11. I did not lose my home in these fires, or a loved one, but I do feel like my heart has been ripped out. I cried over a tree and my memories from eating at Kimo’s over the last 40 years. I care about Hawaii far more than most tourists care about a destination, and I don’t think I am alone in feeling that way about Hawaii. I hope locals, natives, and tourists can come together to rebuild. And, when done, I hope the tourism board develops an appreciation that many of us ‘mere tourists’ care deeply about Hawaii and should be welcomed there. So, in the end, I hope good can come from this tragedy in Lahaina.

  12. When I went to Hawaii a few months back we rented a VRBO and felt very uncomfortable with the neighbors. We were quiet, respectful and usually gone during the day. Neighbors were not friendly and made us feel like we were outcast. Hawaii loved taking my money but I doubt we will go back.

  13. Dear Hawaii,
    I do not need anyone to tell me to visit Hawaii, or how to visit. I’m coming anyways. I love the people, the history, the beautiful nature. The Aloha is the only thing missing in your messaging. Bring that back, that is why I come. Everything else feels like a lecture. I dont want a lecture. I want a beautiful story I can be a part of.

  14. I have been reading the comments on this story for the past few days and the vast majority have similar sentiments; HTA blew it. I suggest Beat of Hawaii assemble these comments and get them to this out of touch agency. Mahalo for holding their feet to the fire.

    1. I agree Randy. They don’t represent what we’re about at all! Yes, we want informed tourists that help us take care of this sacred place. It’s not ours. It belongs to our children and their children for years to come. We have to treat it gently. But we make a living off tourism. As we saw during COVID, so many businesses folded without tourists. We’re all about Aloha. And no matter where you’re from, you’re always welcome here.

  15. The tourism industry and the health of the island archipelago, like every other beautiful place on earth, is out of balance. The people of Hawaii are working hard to educate its people to learn self sustaining agriculture, while at the same time depending on tourism as its major economy. The attempt to educate tourist on the delicate ecosystem of this paradise is part of the program. Hard to extend Aloha to anyone not understanding and respecting this approach. Not sure what LA has done to be snubbed, but marking should attract not insult anyone. Hope San Diego continues to share good vibes with Hawaii. We are praying for the people of Maui.


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