After Hawaii lost the Pro Bowl, sports planners couldn’t help but wonder where sports tourism stands in the Aloha State. It turns out the industry outlook is as sunny as the destination. In January, the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Hawaii Convention Center announced announced multi-year agreements with U.S. Futsal to host the Pacific Futsal Cup; AAU Basketball to host the Jam on It Pacific Rim Championships and with AAU Volleyball. All of the events will be played at the center’s new courts, completed in 2017. Connect Sports spoke with Leslie Dance, vice president of marketing and product development at Hawaii Tourism Authority, about what to expect for sports on the islands.
What’s a big draw in Hawaii?
We used to have the Pro Bowl, which was a big spectator sport. In 2017, we had the Los Angeles Clippers here for a week’s training camp and two exhibition games with the Toronto Raptors. It’s a win-win on both ends because, not only will people travel to see the team, but [leisure travelers and locals] in Hawaii will also be able to enjoy a professional sporting event.
From where are you attracting the most sports tourism?
The Unites States is our largest market, and the West Coast of the United States is particularly large. East Coast travel is an opportunity market for us because there’s a huge percentage of people who we call the never-beens to Hawaii. They have this perception that it’s a really long trip, but it’s not that bad. If you left JFK, you’d be in Hawaii in 9.5hours. We need to educate people that it’s not an arduous trip.
Is there one island best suited for sports?
Oahu is where the center of gravity is, but the way our environment is and the weather is, you can host anything anywhere. We don’t have the traditional big venues like a lot of places do. We have one football stadium, [Aloha Stadium in Halawa], that seats 50,000. A bill has been passed that will allow it to go through redevelopment, which will bring us lots of opportunities. We don’t have a professional basketball court, but we just bought a bunch of sports courts for Hawaii Convention Center [in Honolulu]. We’re seeing success there for basketball, volleyball and football. We can tailor our convention center to have AAU, high school level or younger events.
Does Hawaii plan to expand its reach in sports tourism?
I think 31 events is a sweet spot for us. It’s not about having 100 Pro Bowls or spending millions and millions of dollars. It’s about having the right amount of the right thing. I’m not sure we should do what Las Vegas is doing and build big facilities to have a professional basketball team. That’s not us.