Much has changed about the Hawaiʻi visitor industry since May 14, 1902, when W. C. Weedon convinced a group of Honolulu businessmen to pay him to advertise the Territory of Hawaiʻi on the Mainland. But one thing has stayed the same: Throughout the years, the entities which have promoted Hawaiʻi to the world have also had to promote themselves to Hawaiʻi.
Despite the grumbling of powerful sugar planters, it was under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce and the Merchants Association that the business of tourism promotion began.
Weedon's proposal was to collect $100 per month for six months of lecture tours, and a 'magic lantern' show. Pictures, then as now, could tell Hawaiʻi's story better than anything except the recounted memories of people who had been here. Armed with his stereopticon and some tinted scenes of Hawaiʻi, Weedon boarded the ship for San Francisco with "a realistic and truthful representation of those remarkable people and beautiful lands of Hawaiʻi."
There had been some precedence for tourism promotion in 1892, in the Hawaiʻi Bureau of Information. That effort fizzled, but when Hawaiʻi became a territory, it drew adventuresome travelers in a tourism boom around the turn of the century. Hotels blossomed, including Waikīkī's oldest surviving hostelry, the Moana Hotel, in 1901.
Then, according to published accounts, the tourists stopped coming--possibly because Honolulu was swept by bubonic plague in 1899 and 1900. There were reports that Los Angeles was anticipating a bumper crop of tourists for the winter of 1902. Competition had already begun. The plan was to persuade California visitors to go "a little farther" when they were out West, and see Hawaiʻi, too.
The time was right! Due, in great part to the writings of men like Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson, Weedon drew packed houses on the West Coast, and soon wrote back to the merchants: "At every point I go, I find people ready and eager to learn more of Hawaiʻi." He urged them to provide, "some literature which may bear upon the advantages of our islands for rest and pleasure seekers..."
Hawaiʻi had nothing to send, but efforts were already underway to launch systematic tourism advertising. On July 19, 1902, the Merchants Association proposed a permanent tourism promotion bureau. By 1903 a source of funding had been secured--a share of the voluntary tonnage tax shippers levied after the plague to rat-proof the docks and later to create a public health emergency fund and to promote business.
That same year, the first Territorial Legislature debated tourism promotion for the first time--and rejected the Joint Tourist Committee's request for $10,000. Then Governor Sanford Dole backed the chamber's plea for reconsideration and $15,000 was approved for what became the Hawaiʻi Promotion Committee.
Before the year was out, the new Alexander Young Hotel opened downtown, with the new tourism office in it manned by Edward Boyd, and about 2,000 visitors came to enjoy Hawaiʻi's version of paradise, after advertisements promising perpetual spring and romance appeared in national magazines.
An early vest-pocket map and guide described, Honolulu--What to See and How to See It. The guide, one of the promotional pieces distributed with the help of steamship and railway agencies, advised that if taxi fares seemed too high, visitors could collect a refund from the Tourist Bureau.
Another early pamphlet contained a bit of pithy prose from a speech by a talented California newspaper columnist, Mark Twain, correspondent for the Sacramento Union. Hawaiʻi tourism promoters and others have used his lines time and again since then: "No alien land in all the world has any deep strong charm for me but that one; no other land could so longingly and beseechingly haunt me sleeping and waking..."
Hawaiʻi, he wrote, is "the loveliest fleet of islands anchored in any ocean."
Over the decades, promotional efforts grew and so did the number of tourists. The tourism promotion agency acquired another new name, the Hawaiʻi Tourist Bureau in 1919, a new executive secretary, George Armitage in 1920, and a new function of counting visitors (8,000) and rooms in 1921. The governor appointed four members to the bureau to represent all the major islands, and the agency had a vastly expanded budget ($100,000) in 1922.
Colorful community events were staged, usually involving flowers and parades. Entertainment flourished to keep the visitors occupied. Wonderfully wacky hapa-haole music was performed to ukulele and steel guitar. The tourist hula show was born, and instantly became controversial. The missionary families still considered the hula to be immoral, but the tourists loved it.
The Bureau took part in many promotional activities over the years, but the most enduring and successful was launched in 1935 as the radio program, Hawaiʻi Calls. Originated, produced and narrated by Webley Edwards, it was broadcast for nearly four decades to the Mainland, Canada and Australia every Saturday, usually from the Moana Hotel's lanai on Waikīkī Beach.
Listeners grew up with the sounds of Hawaiʻi from that popular show and developed lifelong desires to see and hear the real thing.
In 1941, a record year, in which 31,846 visitors arrived, World War II brought an abrupt end to tourism in Hawaiʻi. Three years later, the Chamber of Commerce began bringing it back to life with a Hawaiʻi Travel Bureau, which concerned itself with leaving a friendly Territorial impression on the servicemen who were soon to go home.
In 1945, the Hawaiʻi Visitors Bureau was launched. Major Mark Egan was named secretary, and a whole new era of Hawaiʻi tourism promotion began.
A group of businessmen borrowed $20,000 and launched Aloha Week in 1947 to boost tourism in the otherwise slow fall season.
An important priority was to get the ocean liner Lurline back in the passenger business after her wartime duty. It cost Matson $19 million, but in the spring of 1948, with an exuberant welcome by some 150,000 people and an 80 vessel escort arranged by the HVB, she steamed into Honolulu Harbor to reclaim her title as "glamour girl of the Pacific."
In 1948, American President Lines resumed plying the Pacific and scheduled air service was inaugurated to Hawaiʻi.
A long maritime strike in 1949 cut Hawaiʻi tourism in half, to 25,000 visitors and the Legislature agreed to match private contributions to the tourism promotion budget. That made it a million-dollar proposition over two years: Advertising on the Mainland; transmitting and financing Hawaiʻi Calls; special displays; Mainland offices; movies; publicity; literature; guides; warrior markers; music and hula to greet arriving ships and planes, and an HVB flower lei for every visitor!
Special people got special greetings. The Lurline herself got a steamship sized lei, 80 feet of orange crepe paper, during the 1948 reception. Actor Joe E. Brown (and his invisible rabbit co-star) came to play in Harvey in 1950 and was greeted by the HVB with a lei of carrots. In 1953, the HVB held a pretty face contest and selected hula dancer Mae Beimes as the first official HVB Poster Girl. Her sweet smile and proffered plumeria lei adorned a poster that is still a part of Hawaiʻi history.
Beimes was succeeded later by Beverly Rivera Noa, and Rose Marie Alvaro, a dancer who posed for four posters, and followed by Liz Logue, Tracy Monsarrat and Zoe Ann Roach, they became Hawaiʻi's best known representatives around the world.
Statehood in 1959 brought with it the arrival of the first jet service to Honolulu. Tourism exploded. Waikīkī began to build up (and up). Sheer numbers eroded some of the personal touch like a lei greeting for every arriving visitor. But the Bureau hit the road. Hawaiian entertainers and promotion experts circled the globe to spread the Island word.
The HVB metamorphosed again in 1961, when it began doing business under contract to the State Department of Planning and Economic Development. Private contributions had slacked off--industry leaders were spending more on their own advertising--while government funding increased. The 50-50 funding became two-thirds state, and one-third private financing of HVB efforts.
In the mid 1960's, for the first time, advertisements circulated at home in Hawaiʻi pointing out the benefits of tourism to the community.
At the same time other Pacific Rim nations were sending emissaries to the HVB to get the experts' advice and training on how to set up a tourism bureau. They included Australia, Canada, Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa, Taiwan, Korea and Alaska.
The HVB diversified to include a Meetings & Conventions department, and later a Visitor Services department.
Steadily during the 60's, 70's, and 80's the millions of tourists added up, and the HVB and Hawaiʻi learned to cope with the problems of success. The yearly tourism total reached nearly seven million people in 1990.
1991 was the breakpoint year for Hawaiʻi's visitor industry. The Gulf War raised fuel prices, detoured aircraft and decreased lift capacity to the Islands. Coupled with a downturn in both the U.S. and Japan economies, a drying up in overseas capital investment, and a reticence among eastbound visitors to come to the U.S. amidst threats of terrorism, arrivals and airline seats decreased through 1994.
During 1995 & 1996, the organization was shifted from a community/government model to a business model emphasizing public/private partnerships. The organization became leaner, more flexible and proactive. New goals, performance standards and accountability measures were established. New initiatives were conceived, but programs were still hindered by a budget that would never allow Hawaiʻi to compete effectively with other destinations' investments.
The Japanese market grew steadily for the next three years, reaching its highest visitor count in 1997. But, the U.S. Mainland market was still relatively stagnant during this time.
In July 1996, the name was officially changed to the Hawaiʻi Visitors and Convention Bureau, to reflect a new emphasis on business/meeting travel and a new responsibility for marketing the world class, state-of-the-art Hawaiʻi Convention Center. The $350 million Center officially opened in June 1998 and represented the first significant tourism-related construction in over five years.
The nature of tourism promotion changed to keep pace with the rest of the world. The advertising programs that had sold Hawaiʻi with pretty girls and palm trees began to stress the Islands' diversity, its Hawaiian culture and history, and the wide range of sports, activities, and cuisine. We began to appeal to a wider base of travelers who wanted more of what Hawaiʻi really is.
While the competition has intensified, Hawaiʻi remained one of the world's most desired destinations. Unsurpassed natural beauty, pristine physical environment, and diversity of islands, combined with our world-famous spirit of "aloha", continue to be an unbeatable product. Some things don't change all that much!
What did change were management, vision and politics.
By 1997, it was obvious to everyone, from the Governor and Legislature to the man on the street that if we wanted to compete on a global scale, Hawaiʻi needed to stimulate structural & foundational changes. As James Michener once said, "Nothing that ever prospered on these islands ever did so without a struggle." The Governor convened the "ECONOMIC REVITALIZATION TASK FORCE (ERTF)." This unique coalition of community and government, counties and businesses established several key initiatives.
For tourism, Hawaiʻi's number one economic driver and the catalyst for many inter-related industries, a special Tourism Bill was passed by the 1998 Legislature. It established the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority (HTA) with dedicated funding at a more globally competitive level. Its purpose is to create a strategic vision and direction for tourism and implement the key initiatives for sustainable, social and economic benefits for all of the Islands of Hawaiʻi.
By 1999, dedicated funding was a reality and the HVCB was ready for the "new economy" challenges and opportunities. Our marketing mission is to create sustainable, diversified, global, leisure and business travel demand for all of these Islands of Aloha.
The Bureau is uniquely qualified to serve the people of Hawaiʻi as a publicly supported, private corporation whose singular goal is to showcase and celebrate Hawaiʻi's diversity and aloha to the world; to encourage people to reawaken their senses and rejuvenate their spirit in Hawaiʻi; and to return again and again.
HVCB is a vanguard organization. It is dedicated to creating a new 'Gold Standard' for destination marketing, and its primary product is the world's most-desired destination. Hawaiʻi, The Islands of Aloha.