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Okinawa Hawaii and Hong Kong hold symposium on conventions

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-03-20

Last week on February 18 a symposium was held for the purpose of sharing ideas and information on conventions and their role in tourist based economies. Sandra Moreno, Vice President of the Hawaii Visitors Convention Bureau, and Hong Kong Tourist Association's Director, Ellen Kwan, attended the conference as guest speakers, representing their respective agencies. The symposium, which was held in conjunction with Hawaii and Hong Kong, was appropriately held at the Okinawa Convention Center, and was sponsored by the Ministry of Transport, Okinawa Prefectural Government, and the Japan Tourist Association. Etsuko Higa, Director of the Okinawa Convention Center, and Tetsuya Sato of the Japan Tourist Association, were also among the four panelists that attended the symposium. The conference hall was also filled with numerous guests in the audience from both the private and public sector, representing travel related industries and agencies.

Hawaii, although just entering the convention business recently, has made outstanding progress in attracting both domestic and foreign customers. Their brand new Convention Center is scheduled to open for business on July 1, 1998. It offers 1,000,000 square feet in space and was built with all the latest technology to provide the best facilities for its customers. The huge center was built for an enormous cost of $350,000,000, but the sales team has confirmed over a billion dollars in sales revenue over just two years of intense marketing. This huge amount in revenue shows the potential in this fast growing field. "It is a very lucrative business for tourism," said Hawaii Visitors Convention Bureau Vice President Sandra Moreno.

The Hawaii Convention Center's incredible sales achievement is credited to an aggressive marketing campaign that focused on Hawaii's strategic location for business in the Pacific Rim, and on its attractiveness as a tourist destination. "We are very much like Okinawa. We have warm people, beautiful beaches, water sports, and usually nice weather," explained Moreno, while joking about the recent unusual amount of rain in Okinawa. Using a sales strategy that promotes customer friendliness, and one that is also highly competitive, the sales team works together with many other businesses and agencies. "We receive input from politicians, the business community, and other organizations, as well as from members of the Convention Bureau," further explained Moreno.

Hong Kong, which has been in the tourism trade since 1957, and also has 20 years experience in the convention business, also places much emphasis on marketing. A budget of $450,000,000 HK dollars is allocated to the Hong Kong Tourist Association annually, but the majority is spent on marketing. Ellen Kwan, Director of Hong Kong's Tourist Association, said, "Marketing is the best way to get visitors to come." Strategic regional offices located in Chicago London, and Sydney, as well as many smaller offices across the globe attract the majority of tourists to Hong Kong, and like Hawaii, the agency has a close relationship with the business community and other tourist related organizations.

"Our large amount of direct flights to major cities are very important for attracting visitors. We also have a no-visa entree relationship with many countries, and we make it very easy to attain a visa for those who need one to enter Hong Kong for business. Our official language is both Chinese and English, and many signs are also in English. Local transportation is very important. It must be inexpensive and user friendly, which Hong Kong does have," said Kwan.

Last year Hong Kong hosted over 300 conventions, and also attracted many trade shows and exhibitions. Over 200,000 people attended the various trade shows, while convention attendees helped to boost the overall economy with their spending power. On average, a convention delegate spends $20,000 HK dollars during their stay, compared to just over $7,000 HK dollars spent by the average tourist.

The points brought up by Moreno and Kwan were also shared by many in the tourist industry here on Okinawa. Although Okinawa's Convention Center is an excellent facility, it has lacked the marketing skills both Hawaii and Hong Kong posses. Okinawa Convention Center's Director, Etsuko Higa, said, "We need more market research. We need to find out what people need and try to meet those needs. We also need to begin to appeal to different segments of the market."

A definite problem Okinawa must overcome if it is to become a true international resort island, is that is must also realize the need for more English speakers, and it needs to attract more foreign visitors. "Okinawa needs to promote itself more, and the general public must be taught more about the importance of tourism to create a warmer atmosphere and hospitality," explained Higa.

If Okinawa can put together a comprehensive marketing strategy to combine tourism with conventions, it could become very competitive internationally, and increase its revenues during the winter season.

Everyone also agreed that the symposium was a success, and future conferences are anticipated. Moreno stated, "It would be wonderful if we could do an interchange program for business by rotating customers." Okinawa should jump on the opportunity with its new bi-lateral relationship with Hawaii. Forming closer ties with the popular destination would be in Okinawa's best interest.

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