Rick Egged: Culture makes us unique

By Lu Cao

What does the plan for Hawaii’s future visitor industry look like? Rick Egged, the president of the Waikiki Improvement Association, gave his answer at a ThinkTech & HVCA (Hawaii Venture Capital Association) conference August 25. Instead of counting on the long-term growth of the Asian visitor market what we have to do now is to strengthen the connection between authentic Hawaiian culture and the visitor industry.

The emerging overseas visitor market from China, South Korea, and India has drawn the community’s attention over a long time. The state has allocated $1.7 million for marketing in China, Taiwan, and South Korea in 2008, and encouraged adding the direct flights from China to Hawaii.

“There is a real connection there, but that’s really a very long-term market,” Rick Egged said. “We are still fighting the whole national security and visa waiver issues, when we deal with particularly the Chinese market.”

Egged said: “What makes Hawaii a unique is that destination is our culture; whose culture? The Hawaiian culture, our multi-cultural society. The fact that we have a system that works, that we have the greatest quality of life; that is what makes us attractive as a visitor destination.”

Egged shone a beacon of hope on the Hawaii’s visitor industry by saying, “We have a new wardrobe and a new coat of paint …we have people with moderate incomes that will save for that dream vacation, then we’ll have to deliver.” He said, “By working together, we’ve been able to make tremendous progress in Waikiki, and it’s really helped us to weather the current downturn in much better condition that when it begin at 10 years ago.”

He also pointed out that it is not realistic to see a growing number of visitors during this transformation period. He said, “Right now we are trying to grow our way back to where we were in the peak years of 2006, and 2007, when we had about 69 million visitor days… [This number] is how many days those people actually spend here, it’s visitor days when they spend their money, and they rent hotel rooms in Hawaii.”