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A Look At The Hawaii Tourism Association Budget

Is Hawaii practicing good marketing?

Stephen Craven  May 10, 2010

There seems to be a mismatach regarding where Hawaii’s tourism marketing money is going. I will use Hawaii Tourism Authority's (HTA) own budget numbers and inbound tourism statistics, some of which you can find at their target="_blank">website). No really detailed budgets are available on their site, only a dated 2008 annual report to the Hawaii Legislature. Web-sleuthing turned up HTA’s 2009 annual report, presented to the Legislature on October 31, 2009. It’s on the HTA site after all, but with no way to find it directly. Curious.

Let’s examine the Leisure Marketing expenditures, nearly 56 percent of the total. That, of course, includes US domestic marketing, which we need to back out to get a look at HTA’s international marketing. Luckily, the 2009 Annual Report allows us to do that – with one significant limitation.

OK, backing out the North America budget leaves us with an international marketing budget of US$12,560,000. But that does not include Canada, a major source for Hawaii’s visitors! If any of my readers knows how much HTA spends in Canada, I’d love to have it so that we get a true picture of HTA’s full international marketing. Ignoring Canada, which is ignoring a lot, we’ll go with what we have.

So what is Hawaii getting for its marketing money? Let's compare FY 2009 dollars with HTA’s projections for visitor arrivals in 2010. I’m blithely making an assumption that 2009 expenditures leads to 2010 sales. According to their Spring 2010 market briefing, HTA predicts that Hawaii will attract 1,589,619 international visitors (not including the 343,000 visitors expected from Canada). In terms of HTA’s budget, each foreign visitor costs HTA about US$7.90, but let’s look at individual markets to the extent the data allows.

I had to tease the data a bit to get a clear picture. Besides leaving Canada out, HTA provided no estimates for markets other than those shown, so I didn’t include their “Other” budget item.

Several things attract my attention. One is the absolute dependence on Japan (73.9 percent of international visitors, 72.8 percent of the international marketing budget). The portion of the budget that goes to “Other Asia” (almost entirely China and South Korea) seems to be an attempt to diversify, but there is no evidence that resources are being shifted out of Japan to do it. In other words, the attention that continues to be paid to Japan smacks of simply going back to the sources you are comfortable with. It is hearsay, but a contact who often works with HTA tells me the prevailing attitude is to ignore any market that doesn’t already send large numbers of visitors – China and South Korea being exceptions. One wonders how to build an industry if one ignores new markets.

Building up China and South Korea is laudable, but look where the money apparently came from. Somewhat reduced expenditure per customer in Australia, and almost nothing spent on European visitors. And that is exactly what has happened: the marketing budget for Europe was cut from US$883,000 in FY2008 to only US$103,000 in FY2009 – a Draconian cut of more than 88 percent from your most cost-effective market! Does this make sense? Most businesspeople would look at the cost/customer for Europe (only US$0.94) and conclude that this is where the marketing funds need to go.

Is Hawaii practicing good marketing?
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