Big Island experience awaits business exchange guests

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Starting today, about 100 companies from around the globe will be represented on the Big Island as part of a four-day event aimed at selling Hawaii as a prime spot for meetings, conventions and incentive trips.

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Starting today, about 100 companies from around the globe will be represented on the Big Island as part of a four-day event aimed at selling Hawaii as a prime spot for meetings, conventions and incentive trips.

The Experience Aloha Business Exchange, a first-ever event spearheaded by the Hawaii Tourism Authority, its Hawaii Tourism Global MCI branch and the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, among other entities, will bring together incentive travel companies hailing from places including the mainland, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Germany to name a few.

Incentive trips are those used by businesses to motivate employees and boost performance.

The exchange kicks off tonight with a reception at the Lava Lava Beach Club in Waikoloa. Most events are in West Hawaii, though this weekend attendees will travel around the island to take part in a range of popular visitor activities including viewing lava and waterfalls, snorkeling and golf, according to Priscilla Texeira, managing director of Hawaii Tourism Global MCI.

The idea is to “know how to sell Hawaii Island to their groups,” Texeira said.

“It’s all about experiencing the Island of Hawaii the way their clients would experience it for groups,” she said.

On Monday, attendees will meet one-on-one with incentive travel “suppliers” such as airlines, hotels, event-planning companies and activity companies, Texeira said. That will happen at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel &Bungalows. The event is not open to the public.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority is spending $150,000 for the business exchange to cover air travel, meals, activities, transportation and other costs for attendees. It matched those funds through in-kind sponsorships including complimentary hotel accommodations — attendees are staying in all six hotels along the Kohala Coast.

Hawaii often is “voted one of the top incentive travel destinations in the world,” Texeira said, for its “world-class hotels, unique venues and activities.”

“We have everything that people want for incentive travel,” she said.

Organizers hope hosting the inaugural event on Hawaii Island will increase attendees’ familiarity with the Neighbor Islands, particularly among attendees from Asian countries.

Big Island tourism from Asian countries jumped 25 to 35 percent the first quarter of the year, according to Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, which he said is partly because traveling to the island from those countries is getting easier.

In December, Hawaiian Airlines added a direct flight from Kona to Tokyo. In September, Japan Airlines will resume a daily, nonstop flight between Kona and Tokyo.

“Because we have the international airport designation now, we have far greater access to the island directly,” Birch said. “The hindrance for groups has been anytime they land in Honolulu and go to the Neighbor Islands, there are only so many interisland seats. So now that they can fly on larger planes, we can have 100 people on an aircraft at one time. That’s a big difference.”

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Organizers want the event to become annual. A second exchange already is in the works, set to take place in September 2018 at the Hawaii Convention Center on Oahu.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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