To attract new visitors, state tourism officials go high-tech

To attract new visitors, state tourism officials go high-tech
(Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority)
(Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority)
(Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority)
(Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority)
(Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority)
(Image: Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Hawaii's visitor numbers are hitting record highs, but the Hawaii Tourism Authority isn't sitting back and enjoying the ride.

The state agency says it has to keep improving to stay ahead -- and that means embracing tech.

"Technology's evolving very quickly and we have to be at the cutting edge of it," says Leslie Dance, vice president of marketing and product development for the HTA.

This week, the authority is showing off its new tech toys aimed at wooing more tourists to the islands at the annual Hawaii Tourism Conference.

A big draw: the GoHawaii mobile app, which was launched about a month ago. It provides island-by-island events information in six different languages.

And so far, 22,000 people have downloaded the app.

"There's a significant amount of travelers that are traveling for the first time, and they're traveling to the United States for the first time and traveling to Hawaii for the first time," said Randy Baldemor, chief operating officer for the HTA, "By using a mobile app it allows us to communicate with them directly to their phones."

The app also provides safety tips for those going into the ocean or going on a hike.

In the next few weeks, HTA will add push alerts to notify users about weather dangers or other issues that tourists aren't used to, like an influx of jellyfish at Waikiki.

Another advancement being highlighted at the conference is facial recognition technology aimed at helping potential visitors plan their perfect vacation.

New software will "read expressions" as people watch videos of Hawaii attractions. Their expressions will determine what type of Hawaii vacation the potential tourist will see.

Convention goers are also getting a peak at the potential of virtual reality for promoting the islands.

Attendees are able to watch virtual reality flyovers of the islands from a hand glider.

"Being able to sail over the islands, it's just a really fun and immersive way," Dance said.

The user wears the virtual reality glasses and headset and holds a controller in each hand. They are then lifted onto a hand glider that takes them over the islands virtually. They can land on a boat touring the Na Pali coast off Kauai with local musicians, or watch a hula halau at a lava field on the Big Island.

"You choose an island and you land on it, and you're greeted by a host of that island," Dance said.

Officials hope it will tempt potential visitors into booking a real Hawaiian vacation.

Unlike the other advancements, the VR tour one is only available at conventions -- for now. HTA will take it with them to other gatherings around the world to lure visitors, and eventually everyone can use it with cheap, cardboard Google glasses and a mobile phone.

About 2,200 people are attending this year's tourism convention, twice the number that attended last year.

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