Michele Hayes, the managing partner of Arizona-based Strategic Meetings & Incentives, fell in love with Hawaii all over again on a recent scouting trip to find the right location to bring corporate travelers in 2014.
"We're definitely coming to Hawaii," Hayes said. "The question is which hotel that we'll book and what we'll buy."
Hayes' perspective is in keeping with results from the Global Business Travel Association's most recent business travel index. The association reports that nationwide business travel spending is coming back, indicating greater corporate confidence. As uncertainty over U.S. politics, the fiscal cliff and taxes dissipates this year, U.S. business travel spending is forecast to rise 4.6 percent to $266.7 billion, Virginia-based GBTA and its sponsor, Visa, reported earlier this month. In comparison, business travel spending had a rough 2012, finishing at just 1.6 percent growth.
While Hawaii is still feeling the impact of last year's uncertainty, there is evidence of pent-up demand, said Michael Murray, vice president of sales and marketing for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.
"The numbers are encouraging and there are high expectations for the market," Murray said. "Our booking goals are up 19 percent over last year."
Hawaii already is seeing gains in business travel and spending, said Hilton Area Vice President Jerry Gibson.
"The car dealers haven't come back yet, but we're seeing more medical, pharmaceutical and incentive groups," Gibson said.
As a result, Hilton has upped its entire Waikiki group business forecast by 2 to 3 occupancy points and expects to realize gains in average daily rate and revenue per available room (RevPAR).
"(Business travelers) are buying more than they have in the few years past," Gibson said. "They are doing more activities and they are spending more money on receptions and food and beverages. Instead of a continental breakfast, they are adding full meals."
Vickie Omura, director of sales and marketing for the Westin Moana Surfrider, said business groups and traveler bookings are up 10 to 20 percent over the prior year.
"Most are realizing that when you have an important message to convey it's important to be here," Omura said. "They also care about the type of experience."
Planners understand that adding on spa visits, daily breakfasts, circle island tours, team-building events and other exclusive experiences helps the customer "leave feeling better than when they came," she said.
Hayes said while many of the business travelers that she brings to Hawaii are conservative spenders, most want a high-end experience and some are willing to pay slightly more than they have in the past to get it.
"Budgets have loosened up a little bit," she said. "For example, before we might have had a $50 budget for in-room gifts, now it's $60."
Given that Hayes shops local, even a $10 per-person increase can add up to big gains for Hawaii's economy.
"The trickle-down impacts are enormous," she said. "Everyone from gift retailers like Hilo Hattie to Island Gifts and various local florists benefits."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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