Although the weak economy has hurt tourism, people still want to travel. Some states are focusing on promotions to persuade people to find out what’s going on in their own backyards. Michigan and Hawaii are making changes to their marketing strategies to deal with the slowdown in tourism.
By Mary Branham
There’s trouble in paradise … at least when it comes to tourism.
A recent report for First Hawaiian Bank said Hawaii’s tourism industry is in crisis and the state’s economy won’t improve until tourism recovers.
That’s not surprising, considering tourism represents more than 20 percent of the state’s economy, according to David Uchiyama, vice president of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Rep. Marcus Oshiro, chair of the Hawaii House Finance Committee and vice chair of The Council of State Governments-WEST, said tourism is his state’s number one industry and touches four out of five jobs in Hawaii.
“We are concerned about the decrease in tourism in the current recession,” Oshiro said. “Visitor industry spending is critical to our economy.”
The state receives $2.3 billion in taxes annually from tourism, which provides 155,200 jobs with a $4.6 billion payroll, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
“Foremost, the tourism industry has an overwhelming economic importance for Hawaii,” economist Leroy Laney wrote in the Economic Report. “Employment for all sectors will be down, as will tax revenues, business profits and overall economic well-being.”
The current world economic downturn isn’t the only problem adding to Hawaii’s woes.
Uchiyama said rising fuel costs, the volatility of the airline industry and competition have fueled the storm of problems facing tourism in the island state.
“Hawaii is the most isolated state in the U.S. and our visitor industry is dependent on transportation access to our state,” Uchiyama said in an e-mail interview with State News. Since last year, Aloha Airlines has closed and ATA Airlines has reduced airlift to Hawaii by about 15 percent, he said. “Given the instability of the airline industry, accessibility has become one of our most important issues.”
Accessibility may be a problem for Hawaii, but for other states, it’s a boon to the tourism industry.
“Virginia is located within a day’s drive of 60 percent of the U.S. population,” said Tamra Talmadge-Anderson, director of public relations for the Virginia Tourism Corporation.
That easy accessibility has Virginia officials thinking positive about the summer vacation season. And they have numbers to back up that attitude. Talmadge-Anderson said traffic to the tourism agency’s Web site is up 11 percent over the same time last year. That comes after a drop in Web site traffic—which can indicate interest in visiting the state—last November and December.
“In the late fall, things kind of hit a standstill,” Talmadge-Anderson said. “We definitely heard from our partners in late fall that they were definitely concerned.”
So the tourism agency ramped up promotion efforts to attract visitors from outside the state and from within. And, Talmadge-Anderson said, the state is focusing on its highly successful “Virginia is for Lovers” promotion, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
Virginia, like several other states, is targeting its own residents with hopes they may want to discover what’s in their own backyards.
“We firmly believe people still will travel,” said John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota Tourism. “They want to take their vacation, trips … but they’re going to be doing it in a lot of different ways than they have in the past.”
States Promote ‘Backyard’ Vacations
Shorter trips are on the agenda for many travelers this season, state tourism officials say. That’s opened a door for states to keep their residents—and their vacation spending—close.
The Virginia campaign, said Talmadge-Anderson, started with tourism officials promoting the state’s draw for mountain lovers, beach lovers and history lovers. She said millions of visitors from across the country and around the world visit Virginia each year. The state hopes Virginians will also take advantage of what their state has to offer.
“With the combination of this being our anniversary year and this being a rough time economy wise for some people, we’re saying this year, more than ever, is a great year to travel your own state,” she said.
That’s what tourism officials in every region of the country are hoping residents in their state and neighboring states will do. And many are focusing their marketing efforts on that ideal.
“Our approach has changed a little bit as a result of what’s going on in the economy,” Edman said of Minnesota’s efforts. “People still want to travel and we’re trying to encourage them to discover things in their own backyard.”
Minnesota’s marketing efforts have targeted in-state visitors as well as those from surrounding states. Edman thinks the efforts are paying off.
“We saw some evidence of that last winter where certain ski resources in northern Minnesota were seeing some pretty good traffic this year because a lot of customers were not taking more expensive vacations that involve airfare,” he said. “We started to see last winter people turning inward a little more.”
South Dakota is also benefiting from people staying closer to home. Melissa Bump, director of the state’s Office of Tourism, said South Dakota targets in-state visitors and those in surrounding states every year.
“We do know that people surrounding South Dakota and in South Dakota really do want to travel,” she said. “They like to travel more often and so if they can do it more often and stay closer to home, that’s a really good affordable vacation.”
Kentucky, too, is promoting its offerings especially for Kentuckians.
“We know people are sticking closer to home when they travel and are looking for good value for their dollar,” Mike Cooper, the state’s travel commissioner, said in a press release.
The state launched a new version of its Web site, MyKentuckyBackyard.com, to tout a variety of getaways. The Web site was launched last year in response to high gas prices to provide ideas to Kentuckians who wanted to take a vacation, but needed to keep costs in check, according to the press release. This year, the state has asked travelers to add their recommendations and insights.
“Kentuckians are some of our best travel consultants, whether they tell us about a day trip, golf outing, long weekend or two weeks at one of our wonderful state parks,” Cooper said in the release.
While several states are hoping to capture visitors from within, Michigan is launching a national advertising campaign to draw tourists from across the United States.
About 65 percent of Michigan’s tourism industry is in-state visitors, according to Kirsten Borgstrom, media relations manager for Travel Michigan. In March, working in conjunction with industry partners, the state launched its first-ever national campaign.
“We are trying to make sure the rest of the world knows all the wonderful tourism opportunities that the state of Michigan has to offer,” Borgstrom said.
That could be critical to the state’s economy. Tourism accounts for about $18.1 billion in spending annual, and supports just shy of 200,000 jobs, tourism is one of Michigan’s top three industries, Borgstrom said.