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Obama: Hottest new tourist attraction, but where is Hawaii’s pitch?

Nelson Alcantara, editor-in-chief  Nov 13, 2008

LONDON (eTN) – The day after the United States proclaimed Barack Obama as its new president, headlines here in the British capital resonated the same message: America is cool again. Those headlines have made their way through the halls of this year’s edition of Reed Travel Exhibitions’ World Travel Market, where the buzzword is anything and everything Obama.

Not to miss an opportunity, Kenya has taken on the proactive and proclaimed in its stand that “Obama has his roots in Kenya.” Crafty WTM marketing executives have come to call the new phenomenon as “roots tourism.”

According to WTM, trips are being booked to Indonesia, Kenya, Japan, and the United States. “His victory has rebounded around the globe to create such excited reaction that it is being used as a visitor attraction tool,” said WTM chair Fiona Jeffery.

Collectively, the sudden interest to visit destinations that have ties with the US president-elect is called “Obaboom.” Chicago expects the biggest bounce in tourists because of his close political and family connection, WTM said. “The city visitor authorities already advise travelers to ‘experience the city the Obamas enjoy.’”

The Illinois Bureau of Tourism has announced its plan to launch a three-day package featuring Obama sites, including the Hyde Park area where he lives. The tourism bureau hopes to have the package available from January 20, when Obama will be sworn in.

WTM also claimed that Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, has received a steady number of visitors since Obama’s nomination as the Democrats’ presidential candidate last August. Curiosity sites are the school he attended and the small art-deco style house where Obama, his mother, and her second husband stayed 1970-72.

Missing the opportunity to capitalize on the so-called “Obaboom” is Hawaii, where President-elect Obama was born. It seems Hawaii is more pre-occupied with finding a new “president” for its beleaguered Hawaii Tourism Authority, which recently fired Rex Johnson after allegations of misconduct surfaced against him. It is truly puzzling and ultimately shows the kind of backwards mentality that is plaguing Hawaii tourism leaders and how misguided they are in running the state’s tourism industry.

Ultimately a manifestation that Hawaii’s tourism officials are clueless about “Obaboom,” even Japan has beaten them to the punch, as Japan has proclaimed there is a place called “Obama” in Japan. The Japanese port city called Obama is some 640 miles west of Japan’s capital city of Tokyo and has a population of only 32,000. Citing Japan’s visitor promotion office in London, WTM said the Obama-hype has prompted Obama city to produce souvenirs such as T-shirts and chopsticks. Before the election, UK tour operator, Inside Japan Tours, organized a nine-day tour including two nights in Obama for the election night on November 6.

Even the likes of World Travel and Tourism Council chief executive Jean Claude Baumgarten has something to say about the “Obaboom” phenomenon. He said: “Personally, I am a believer, just like 99 percent of the world. He is a fantastic man. What he has created with his election is the best PR ever. All of a sudden people [are] starting to believe in the US again. I think Obama, by the very fact that he has created an enthusiasm, a new hope, will bring help [to] everybody including travel and tourism. People will go back to the [United] States, and be happy to go back to the [United] States because it is a great country."

Obama:  Hottest new tourist attraction, but where is Hawaii’s pitch?
Photograph by Nelson Alcantara

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