For tourism bosses in Hawaii, a direct connection to Europe has long felt necessary, but unlikely. However, a combination of new technology and ongoing depressed oil prices have now given them the fresh impetus to try and set up a direct flight from UK to the islands.
Hawaii Tourism Authority COO Randy Baldemor and Brad DiFiore, managing director at aviation consultancy Ailevon Pacific, made a 48-hour trade mission to the UK last month where they held meetings with several airlines They are arguing that not only does the technology allow for the new route but after four years of record visitor numbers, there is a big enough market across the whole of Europe to support one.
Baldemor says of the 143,000 visitors the Pacific Islands received from Europe in 2015, more than a third (50,000) came from the UK. He adds: “It’s about getting in front of the airlines and keeping Hawaii in their minds whenever we are talking about routes. Whether we were at Routes Americas in Puerto Rico or going to World Routes in Chengdu, that’s what we do.
“It is about having those meetings, letting the airlines know we’re interested and building a case for the route. We feel strongly there’s a good case. “Europe is our largest outbound market and a tremendous opportunity. We came over to build on that opportunity.”
DiFiore agrees, adding: “We’re getting 120 to 140 visitors a day to Hawaii from the UK and all of them are transiting at least one other gateway. It is a very long, arduous trip and we would like nothing more than to make it easier and more convenient.”
He states both the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350 are capable of handling the 14 and a half hour flight from London. DiFiore adds: “With any long-haul flight there’s always a concern about the impact of fuel, but that’s where the technology comes back into play.
“The efficiency of both the A350 and the Dreamliner make it still viable although it would probably be hard to get it started on a high fuel price. It has to be sustainable.”
DiFiore believes London would be the best starting point for the flight thanks to the size of the UK market, while additional feeder flights from across Europe would further drive the commercial argument for the route.
“We’re open to any carrier that has a network geared for long-haul international flying. Most of our carriers are global carriers and that’s the indication of the programme and the product on offer but the low-cost carrier sector is growing,” he says.
Hawaii’s most prolific airline is Hawaiian Airlines, operating a total of 28 routes out of its five airports, 22 of which fly from Honolulu International Airport. Meanwhile, Baldemor says the authority is looking at attracting new markets to grow the airlines’ potential client base. The rise is being driven by improving technology and analysis, which has allowed the tourist board to better understand different markets.
He believes that millennials are increasingly becoming an important market as they grow older and have more disposable cash to spend. Baldemor says: “It is not that we have to create anything out of the blue to attract millennials; we think there’s a lot out there that they would be attracted to already.”
Culture is also becoming increasingly important to the destination as travellers seek more experiential breaks, while the fact that Hawaii consists of many islands means multi-centre breaks are an excellent way of showing consumers different sides to Hawaiian life.
“They certainly can stay in one place but there are a lot of different reasons why travellers can come to Hawaii and travel around. If they are looking for shopping they might go to Oahu while Hawaii is the greenest of the islands. If they want to see a really volcanic area, then they should go to the Big Island and see volcanoes. When you’re coming to Hawaii it totally makes sense not to stay in one place,” he says.
Baldemor also argues that one of the tourist board’s newest targets will be of interest to airlines which are also keen to attract big spending customers. “One of our focuses has been more on the luxury market and to connect with the luxury tour operator; that’s a market we think will be good,” he says.
“It is expensive to come to Hawaii, hotel rooms are costly as there’s good product out there and lots of people want to come to Hawaii [so driving up the demand]. As far as destinations go we would like to believe it is the kind of product a luxury traveller would like to see,” he adds.
Baldemor adds other destinations, including the Indian Ocean, Peru and Australia, are seeing a surge in luxury travellers from the UK, who are unconcerned by long flights. He believes this further reinforces the argument that Hawaii would benefit from a connection too.
In the meantime, both he and Baldemor will continue to present the evidence to the airlines in the hope that they will win the argument, open the route and share the rewards with the new partner airline.
DiFiore says: “We’re still very much at the initial stage in the conversations. We use the Routes events to make our opinions known and we’re really trying to make the case. But we’re still early in the process.”