Financial institution boosts tourism in Hawaii County through travel promotion

  • Tourists view Mauna Loa from the Mauna Kea Access Road. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

  • Visitors arrive at Kona International Airport. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Tourists watch as lava from the 61G flow enters the ocean in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

  • Tourists walk through the Thurston Lava Tube at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

KAILUA-KONA — The mission for a handful of lucky Central Pacific Bank employees, should they choose to accept it, is to take a free flight to Hawaii Island and spend $100 of company money to help boost tourism in a county that’s seen a harsh downturn in its primary industry over the last three months.

Hawaii County estimates it’s out around $22 million just in lost hotel bookings in the wake of the Kilauea volcano eruption that’s ravaged Puna since early May, and the cost to tourism hardly stops there.

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Dean Kawamura, corporate communications manager for Central Pacific Bank, which operates on all four major Hawaiian Islands, said the Kona and Hilo branches have been reporting significant turn downs in business every couple of weeks.

“They’re seeing it firsthand, how it’s been affecting their business customers,” Kawamura said of the Hawaii Island locations. “So the marketing group here got together, brainstormed and came up with the idea.”

The idea converges at the three-way intersection of charity, employee appreciation and marketing — the creation of a random weekly drawing for 16 weeks that will select two employees, slap a $100 bill in their hands and send them off on a Big Island getaway.

After that, the winners’ itineraries are up to them. They are also given a few weeks to decide when they want to travel.

“We just give them a list of our business customers and we encourage them to visit them and spend $100,” Kawamura said.

Ross Birch, president of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, said his organization wasn’t involved in the CPB promotion. However, he added the bank’s move is part of a trend involving several local companies, many based in Honolulu, that’s helped to support Hawaii County through the natural disaster/financial crisis of Kilauea, primarily by pushing business travel to the Big Island.

The help couldn’t be coming at a better time.

Through the end of April, the year-to-date visitor spend across the island was up 12.7 percent from 2017, Birch said. He projected the actual tourism dollars generated on the island through May and June came in $42-$43 million below what Hawaii County would have pulled had it maintained the trajectory it was on through April.

That doesn’t actually paint the entire picture either, because neither the Hawaii Tourism Authority nor the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism actually track interisland travel and spend as a portion of tourism dollars.

Thus, the loss of that travel doesn’t show up on the state’s tourism spreadsheets. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Despite being an undefined area, the vog that has plagued Kona and the earth-shaking eruptions reshaping Puna have kept visitors from neighboring islands out of West Hawaii hotels for weekend visits and away from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the state’s largest tourist attraction.

“It’s an intangible that’s not recorded in the numbers,” Birch said of travel from other islands, “but it’s extremely tangible for the businesses, the hotels and the restaurants. And a lot of times, the local travelers will even play golf, and that’s quite essential to maintaining the wheels of tourism turning.”

The vog has dissipated to a meaningful degree in West Hawaii over the last week, though there’s no guarantee how long that trend might persist. And Birch said talks to create a replica of the experience at the national park are “still in discussion and still a priority,” noting he was in a meeting Wednesday afternoon centered around how to achieve that goal.

Regardless of current Big Island conditions, or how they may change for better or worse in the coming weeks and months, Kawamura said CPB’s win-a-trip initiative has been exceedingly popular among company ranks thus far.

Employees from any branch are eligible to win a trip and there’ve been hundreds of entries in the promotion’s opening week. The bank drew the first two winners Monday.

The fluctuating price of airfare makes the CPB’s ultimate investment in Big Island tourism through its initiative a moving target, but the bank also announced in a release that it had donated $20,000 to relief efforts in Puna via the Salvation Army.

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“Our CPB ohana believes it’s our responsibility to help our neighbors in any way we can in their time of need,” Catherine Ngo, CPB’s President and CEO, wrote in a press release. “We hope that more companies will consider supporting the Hawaii Island business community with ‘local tourism’ or by other means.”

CPB operates 35 banks across Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island and is the primary subsidiary of Central Pacific Financial Corp., a holding company based in Hawaii with around $5.7 billion in assets.

  1. Vesparado August 16, 2018 6:28 am

    When “West Hawaii Today” ran the headline “Island On Fire”, it scared the rest of the planet. Stop sensationalizing for headlines, and think think outside the box… perhaps even think about how to promote this extrordinary event, to keep the dollars (and livelihoods) flowing.


    1. ypupule August 16, 2018 8:16 am

      Yeah — local businesses supporting local businesses is all good, kudos to the bank, can’t blame them for wanting to promote themselves at the same time… and even hard to fault local media for supporting the local economy in their own way. But not very cool to run this as a front-page, headline story.

      As far as this extraordinary event — things seem weirdly stuck now that the eruptive activity has died down, since that would seem to put a damper on even capitalizing off proposed lava viewing sites… and yet, they can’t start rebuilding, repairing anything of significance either. Any ideas re: promotion, esp. if this lull persists?


    2. Du Mhan Yhu August 16, 2018 7:40 pm

      Liberal media outlets (WHT is most certainly one) emote about everything.

      It is part of the liberal core of being. All things are intensely emotional, reason and rationality are not of interest.

      Emotion rules all.


  2. Ernest T Bass August 16, 2018 6:49 am

    $100.00 ? ….. X 2 X 16
    $3200.00 total
    For free public Bank advertising exposure in the Big Island newspapers.


    1. ypupule August 16, 2018 7:59 am

      Well, you gotta figure in the roundtrip airfare (unless someone from the Kona or Hilo branch wins, lol), right? Still say, ~$8000 for a front page ad posing as headline story — cheap! Someone over there in CPB Marketing should get a raise for this advertising coup!

      Gonna be very suspicious if there are more than 1 or 2 winners from the Big Island, lol!


    2. KonaLife August 16, 2018 8:43 am

      Hotel: $200-$450/night
      Food for a day: $75 per person
      Snorkel, scuba, or Mauna Kea tours: $150 per person
      Car rental: $75/day
      Shopping: $0-$$
      Airfare: $275/per person

      Here’s my math for 2 people, four days on island:
      $300 hotel x 4 + $150/day food x 4 + excursions $300/day x 4 + car rental $75/day x 4 + airfare $550 =$3850 or so per group x 16 weeks x 2 winners a week with one guest each= $123,200.

      Even half that would be great.

      The big plus, though, is a local company making a stand to improve the business climate of our island. Vegas trips are great, but those do nothing to improve our local economy. That’s much more important in the long term.

      Kudos to CPB! And, yes, it should be on the front page of the paper. This is a business doing good for the community and providing leadership for other businesses to do the same. (And, no, I have no personal or business connection to CPB.)


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