Tourism in Hawaii, like tourism worldwide, is down. The mainstream media is fading. Meanwhile, social networking and social media are on the rise, and people are looking for fresh voices and hungry for different experiences. As I reported last week, the Hawaii Tourism Authority launched the “So Much More Hawaii” blogger tour, an experiment to go outside the ordinary and see if bloggers can help spread the appeal of the Aloha State to a new audience.
“Because of the market conditions that we are faced with, and our fight to have our voice heard against other countries’ tourism efforts, we saw this as a way to break through the traditional media efforts to communicate our destination message,” explains David Uchiyama, vice president of tourism marketing for the HTA.
He was kind enough to agree to an e-mail interview over the weekend.
Though David was instrumental in making the tour a reality, he says he’s still “a student of social media.” (You can find him on Twitter at @DavidHTA.) But he says he believes that Hawaii has one of the most active and engaged communities across various social networks, and thus has great potential for these initiatives.
David said the SMMH tour has two goals, the first being highlighting some of the “more intimate experiences” available on different islands.
“We are a maturing market and we sometimes hear, ‘We have been there and done that, so were looking for some where else to travel to.’ People don’t realize how much Hawaii as to offer and the different personalities of our islands that continue to bring new offerings of experiences,” he says. “Our second goal was to have our story told not in the form of a sales pitch, but by a third party who could put it into perspective, and would be received more authentically by their respective audiences.”
The storytellers selected for the SMMH tour are: Rick Calvert from Las Vegas, Leah Lamb from San Francisco, Shira Lazar from Los Angeles, Aric S. Queen from New York, Sheila Scarborough from Austin, Texas, Mark Tafoya from New York, and Jim Turner from Firestone, Colorado.
David said the visiting bloggers were identified by Christine Lu, a China business guru based in Los Angeles, and Chris Noble of California-based Kompolt. Christine’s “boutique firm,” Cilantro Media, was hired by the HTA to handle much of the logistics.
“We brought Christine Lu and Chris Noble in because of the knowledge and work with this type of project,” David explains, and adds that there were many local organizers that were also key to bringing everything together. “The local blogger selection was a collaboration of some of our local bloggers, like Nathan Kam, Neenz, Bruce Fisher and others,” he says.
For the visiting bloggers, one main incentive to participate was clear: a free Hawaii vacation.
“Yes the trip was comped to entice them to come and blog about Hawaii and afforded them some interesting content for their blogs, so everyone benefited,” David says. “That was the carrot that drew some of our guest bloggers to Hawaii.”
But of course, nothing is free, and the SMMH tour could only happen with the support of local companies. Fortunately, the model was already in place thanks to “FAM tours,” which are usually offered to travel agents and other travel professionals.
“Largely the support with complimentary offerings came from the industry,” David explains. “This was truly a collaborative effort and industry came together to make this work from Hawaiian Airlines, Avis/Budget Rent-a-Car, to our hotel, attraction and restaurant partners all shared in this much like a traditional FAM tour.”
“Exposure for these partners will come in the way of coverage from blog mentions as well as links to their sites off of the SMMH blog site,” he adds.
David admits that some local companies may not have been as eager as the HTA to embrace social media.
“There is a little hesitation because this is a relatively new media channel that the industry is tapping into,” he says. “That is why the local bloggers were so important as our ambassadors for our destination, to give insight and share the destination as locals embrace it.”
The HTA did incur costs, but David says he expects they will be worthwhile: “We did have some on-line structural needs as well a service coordination, but compared to traditional media it will be very efficient if we capture the exposure that we are hoping for.”
How will the HTA measure the success of the SMMH tour?
“We want to look at our reach/exposure and the story messaging that we are able to generate — we would want to evaluate how that story messaging is received and the additional on-line conversation that it stimulates,” he says. “I am interested in other markets like Japan, Korea and China. Dependent on how well this current tour is received, I would look to follow the same model, pairing our local bloggers with those from the respective market that have the following in the lifestyle segments which align with various visitor profiles that we see from that market.”
But while the SMMH tour is the first official blogger outreach initiative to catch my attention, David notes that Hawaii tourism officials have utilized social media before.
“The HVCB has already done some individual tours with bloggers, and use of YouTube, Facebook, Linkedin and others have been explored by all of our marketing partners,” he says, adding that “Nathan Kam from McNeil Wilson, HVCB’s PR firm, deserves credit for carrying the Social Networking ball for us.”
David said he got his first taste of new media four years ago, when he was with Starwood Hotels and the ad agency posted videos of each property on YouTube. At the time, he thought the move could be the end of his career, but instead, the videos were a big success.
David is a born and raised local boy, his family originally from Captain Cook on the Big Island. He has worked in the visitor industry for over 30 years, and I was impressed to learn that David worked his way from the ground up. After graduating from Kaiser High School and attending the University of Hawaii, he started as a banquet porter at the Sheraton Waikiki in 1977. He later worked in the airline industry for Continental and Mid Pacific Air, worked for a ground transportation company, and spent 16 years at Starwood before joining the HTA in 2007.
I’d like to thank David for sharing the story behind the So Much More Hawaii tour. To see what the bloggers have been up to, visit www.somuchmorehawaii.com.