Hawai’i Island’s Tourism Branding

Jun 28, 2019

Hawaiian Airlines flight on final approach into Hilo.
Credit prayitno.hadinata / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

A panel of Big Island business leaders recently talked about challenges and transitions across multiple industries. One of the key sectors: the hospitality business.

Among six business leaders who participating in PBN’s Big Island Mean Panel was Ross Birch executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau. Tourism has been one of the industries most impacted by last year’s eruption of Kilauea, an event that interrupted an ongoing effort to rebrand the island that had been paying off.

According to Birch, market research conducted 15 years ago revealed that people outside of Hawaii were confused by the name Big Island, often assuming it meant Oahu, the population center with the state’s capitol. Says Birch, people thought Pearl Harbor and Waikiki were on the Big Island. That finding inspired a long-term effort by the bureau to rebrand the Big Island as the Island of Hawaii. And that, too, he says is an intermediate step to simply referring to it as Hawaii, its true original name.

The rebranding had been working. In the first half of 2018, the island saw record-breaking visitation, seeing double digit growth in arrivals over the previous year in February, March and April. Airlift into Kona had grown 125 percent, to 1.33 million, from 650,000 four years earlier.

But global coverage of eruption led to declines as high as 15 percent in the months following the eruption. The task now is building on that investment in branding the Island of Hawaii to regain that visitation, especially with the Asian markets which, Birch notes, have been slower to recover.