Travel Broadens the Mind

It is said that international travel broadens the mind - which is true - but it also serves to remind us of our own achievements at home.

As Chinese writer Lin Yutang said “No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow”.  

Hawaii is a magnet for the over 5.7 million visitors who flocked to their sandy beaches and sun-drenched islands during the year to the end of October 2008.   Not surprisingly almost 70% were ‘vacation-makers’ from mainland United States and Canada, the majority of whom were from the West Coast USA.

The largest single international market was Japan, comprising 17% of the total market, while all ‘other’ international markets together only contributed 600 000 visitors (10%) per year.
So as a domestic and international tourism destination Hawaii is no minnow.  It has much to offer visitors; its Mainland cousins, Japanese and the ‘others’ alike.  Even our very own Prime Minister takes holidays in the Aloha State.  

Destinations mature at their own pace and they typically develop infrastructure according to priorities driven at a governance level, their man-made and natural capabilities, and the pressures and opportunities of macro market needs at any given time.

New Zealand attracts less than half the visitor numbers of Hawaii but arguably the tourism oriented infrastructure outpaces Hawaii.   In areas such as provision of information, quality assurance, signage and transport facilities, New Zealand performs very well.   Yet again we are punching above our weight and we should be proud of these achievements.

As a first time visitor on the island of Oahu it was interesting to observe the different ways visitors were catered for.     It appeared that the mains sources of on-the-ground information in Honolulu were hotel tourist desks and sandwich-board wearing individuals on the ‘side-walk’.   On offer were activities such as gun-shooting ranges, flights to the islands or cruises, or evening concerts.  It was seemingly random as to who might be touting for business at any given time and as for the quality of information....it was quite possibly equally as random.  
There just didn’t seem to be information centres consolidating all the many and varied things to do in Hawaii.  

In contrast New Zealand’s the network of 79 i-SITE offices, scattered throughout the country and at gateway airports, are for many visitors the first place they’ll visit for information and to make bookings for accommodation, transport and activities.

According to Tourism New Zealand’s Visitor Experience Monitor Summary, international visitors’ rate visitor centres at least 8.5 out of 10 for aspects such as level of personal service, facilities, and knowledge of staff.

Glancing down Waikiki beach and there is no shortage of international brand name hotels.  If the potential customer knows the difference between an Outrigger, Hilton, Marriott or Sheraton, through personal experience or via recommendation, that is great.

However for first time travellers, with little exposure to brand names, how do they select the accommodation standard that suits them?  Or even for the seasoned traveller, how can they distinguish the level of accommodation a sparkling new independent resort may offer.     
A quality assurance programme, like the Qualmark® system can be used both by the novice or seasoned traveller to help in their selection of accommodation.  As we know the New Zealand system also spans transport and activities as well as accommodation.  

As an operator you may have had difficulties implementing new signage for your business, especially if you are located on a State Highway.   New Zealand’s nationwide system of brown tourist signs, indicating scenic areas, historic sites or attractions are easily recognisable, instructional and informative.  

Not so in Hawaii.  Oahu’s tourist oriented signage is minimal, if it even exists at all.  For a typical FIT driver the major attractions can arrive too suddenly, often requiring a U turn, and points of interest can be entirely missed.  

As we fly around New Zealand to meetings, escorting guests or attending trade shows we can’t help but notice the multi-million dollar investments at our airports; in terminals, car-parks, equipment and facilities.  Although operationally disruptive, this investment is to be applauded, as a key aim is to improve the passenger experience.  

Almost 99% of Hawaii’s visitors arrive by air, presumably into and out of Honolulu International Airport.    Having experienced the airport twice, once on arrival and then on departure it is nothing short of under-whelming.  The gulf between the airport experience in Honolulu and that in New Zealand is about as wide as the expanse of the Pacific Ocean between the two.

To its credit the New Zealand industry strives for improved infrastructure for our visitors, whether this is in areas of quality assurance, tourist signage, information delivery or improving our airports.

Keep striving we must, but let’s not forget to take the time to reflect on achievements and take a moment to collectively give ourselves a small pat on the back.

First published in Tourism Business Magazine - Summer2009