Some trends in the travel business are subtle and some are as obvious as, say, a volcano jutting from the Pacific. The Hawaiian Islands' desperate search for customers in this weak economy falls into the second category. And now it appears that much of the islands' deep discounting will continue through the winter season, normally Hawaii's priciest. Travelers there in coming weeks are likely to find bargains in lodgings, rental car rates, restaurants--in short, almost everywhere.
Item: Mahalo Air, a new Hawaiian air carrier, starts up in October and, within weeks, introduces a one-way, island-to-island, Monday-through-Thursday fare of $15, good through Dec. 16 to travelers to Honolulu, Kauai and Maui.
Item: New owners take over the Hyatt Regency Waikoloa resort hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii, change management firms and rename the 1,241-room luxury property the Hilton Waikoloa Village. The new management then announces that in January, advertised rates will fall from $350 to $300 nightly for deluxe ocean-view rooms, from $320 to $275 nightly for partial ocean-view rooms.
Item: Papillon Hawaiian Helicopters on Nov. 1 cuts the price of a 20-minute Kauai tour from $95 to $59, and slashes 45-minute tours from $135 to $89. The company, which operates 25 helicopters in the islands, announces similar cuts on Maui. A spokeswoman says she expects prices to remain in place throughout 1994.
Item: The Hawaii Visitors Bureau announces an "Aloha Value Season" with discounts on hotel rooms, sightseeing excursions and car rentals now through May 15, 1994. Participating companies include such big names as Sheraton, Outrigger, Ritz-Carlton and Inter-Continental.
Actually, statistics from the Hawaii Visitors Bureau explain a lot. Though 1992 was a soft year for tourism in the islands, figures through Sept. 30 show that 1993 has been even worse, with the total number of visitors down 6.5%. Oahu, home of Waikiki Beach, has suffered the most.
"Our (income) peaks haven't been as high, and our valleys have been much lower," says Joseph Toy, Honolulu-based hospitality industry analyst for the consulting firm Coopers & Lybrand. Toy expects this climate to last a while, with the most luxurious properties facing the most troubles--and with post-Iniki reopenings on Kauai intensifying competition for high-end travelers. In a recent forecast, Toy's office predicted that statewide hotel occupancy rates, estimated at a comparatively unhealthy 73.2% for 1992, would tick downward to 72.4% for 1993, recovering only to 72.7% in 1994. (Each percentage point means a lot: In September, one of the state's worst months in years, the Hawaii Visitors Bureau nevertheless reported 483,250 arrivals.) Toy expects the average room rate in Hawaii, which was $106 in 1992, to fall to $101 for 1993 and recover to $103 in 1994.
Ken Phillips, director of corporate communications for the package tour company Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays, notes that in past years only two or three of the 97 Hawaiian hotels with which his company works have had discounts available between Dec. 15 and Jan. 7. This year, says Phillips, 20 or more hotel properties are offering discounts during that time.
Those lodgings that aren't extending their discount seasons into the winter months may well be holding flat--rather than increasing--their nightly rates for the coming year. That's the case, for instance, at two lodgings on the tiny island of Lanai. The 10-room Hotel Lana'i has announced that it will hold its 1994 prices at the 1993 rate of $95 nightly, while at the upscale end on the same island, the 3-year-old, 102-room Lodge at Koele is holding to its admittedly rarefied $295-$975 range of rates.
Outrigger Hotels Hawaii, the state's largest hotel chain, is offering various specials through Dec. 18, incuding a seven-nights-for-the-price-of-six offer (in other words, 14% off) at several Waikiki properties, and $5-a-day rental cars through most of the chain's 25 properties.
Beyond the short term, of course, slow business brings more than low rates. The tourist drought already threatens the future of many island businesses, including a number of fixtures.
The 49-year-old Willows Restaurant in Honolulu, an old-fashioned Hawaiian restaurant with thatched roofs, scattered ponds and strolling Hawaiian musicians, served its last meal in July. Owner Randy Lee told the Honolulu Advertiser that the closure was inescapable after three years of "diminishing returns."
Elsewhere on Oahu, management of Honolulu's Paradise Park three weeks ago announced their own plans to close down. The park did business for 25 years as a 15-acre botanical and zoological garden. The reason given for the Dec. 31 The reason given for the Dec. 31 shutdown: "a prolonged downturn in the visitor industry and the slow recovery expected over the next several years."