Friday, June 6, 2008

Ad Campaign To Lure Visitors to Hawaii Ignores Big New Concern about Air Travel: Carbon Footprint

• 10 a.m. Update: Oil surges $11/barrel to $139.12 in the biggest one-day leap ever!

When Hawaii Tourism Authority leaders approved an emergency expenditure in May for advertising to counter a downturn in visitors, a Honolulu Advertiser headline writer’s word choice caught our attention:

‘State agency OKs use of emergency fund to lure back travelers’

The word was “lure” – a good word for headline writers because it’s short. But what struck us is the American Heritage Dictionary definition: to attract by wiles or temptation; entice.

The HTA and every other tourism advertiser here is in the enticement business – selling Hawaii’s image of a within-reach paradise. But think about what the HTA is up against. The economy is flat and probably in a “recession” that hasn’t been called yet. And then there’s the carbon.

Footprints in the Sky

Everywhere you turn there’s talk about carbon footprints – the amount of fossil fuel-generating carbon that’s produced in creating electricity and moving people by car, train, boat and airplane. Hawaii is the most isolated society on the planet, and that means every airline passenger lays down a big carbon footprint getting here.

The two conferences we’ve attended here recently calculated the carbon footprint for attendees (6.5 tons for PACON participants) and enumerated what sponsors like the Blue Planet Foundation have done to offset the fossil fuel impacts.

Times have changed, but what’s the HTA and the entire visitor industry supposed to do? Tourism is Hawaii’s monster industry and must be promoted or it’ll tank. The signs already are all around that the tanking has begun, as a story in today’s Advertiser describes:

“Fuel prices have driven airfares and service fees to nearly double what they were earlier this year. As a result, visitor arrivals in April fell nearly 8 percent and hotel occupancy dropped to 6.5 percent, the lowest percentage for any April since 2003.”

Hawaii’s Green Appeal

What we have here is a paradigm shift. PACON keynote speaker Dr. Pat Takahashi told the group two days ago that the higher costs of jet fuel likely will change the nature of Hawaii tourism, but so, too, will the new environmentalism and awareness of one’s personal impact on global warming.

Neither Advertiser story cited today mentions “carbon” or the environment, so we conclude HTA executives aren’t talking about the carbon footprint issue much or at all – at least, not enough to be quoted.

If that’s the case, they’re ignoring the 900-pound gorilla and might well take stock of the environmental movement and acknowledge in their public comments the shift that is taking hold in America.

Hotels might also show some sensitivity to the carbon footprint issue. When conference attendees wear jackets and sweaters to keep warm in function rooms chilled to the shiver point, something’s wrong.

Resetting the Goal

It all adds up to faster conversion to renewable energy in Hawaii than even the 2030 goal of 70 percent, which until recently seemed overly aggressive. Making Hawaii the nation’s greenest state should be the goal, whatever the percentage.

Setting out to “lure” visitors with that message could be the long-term strategy that both makes Hawaii a model for a planetary shift in energy use and rescues her tourism industry. But first, tourism officials need to start talking about it and stop whistling past the graveyard.

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