Honolulu — The ads are lighthearted, appealing: postcard-pretty pictures of sweeping beaches, swaying palms, and smiling, flower-wreathed Hawaiians.
The business, however, couldn't be more serious: a 14-month, nearly $6 million campaign aimed at jolting Hawaii's once rapidlygrowing tourist economy out of the doldrums.
Ever since the 1960s, when tourism became big business for the Aloha State, Hawaii has depended on an ever-increasing flow of vacationers to prime the state's coffers. By the latest count visitors numbered approximately 3.9 million , and contributed $3.2 billion to the state economy.
But in 1980, the tourist industry got a nasty shock. Thanks to a number of factors, including inflation and soaring air fares, the number of visitors to Hawaii dropped for the first time since 1950. The decline amounted to just one half of 1 percent. But it was nonetheless alarming to an industry that had experienced 15 percent annual growth rates in the 1960s and 9 percent growth rates in the 1970s.
It caused such consternation, in fact, that the state got together with the private sector and devised a plan that has launched Hawaii into a business it hasn't had much to do with in the past - promoting ''paradise''.
Word of mouth has always worked so well in building tourism that as recently as 1979, Hawaii spent only $331,000 in promotion advertising -- less than even South Dakota, which spent $355,000 to promote itself in 1979.
But under the new marketing project, known as ''Hawaii/82,'' some $6 million -- $5.5 million of which has come from the private sector -- will be spent in promoting Hawaii as ''the isles of smiles.'' The campaign, launched last November in New York City, is expected to produce 600 million ''consumer impressions'' -- advertising lingo that means 600 million occasions in which Hawaii will be brought to the attention of consumers.
So far-reaching is the campaign that it seems unlikely the average American will be able to escape experiencing at least one ''consumer impression'' over Hawaii/82's duration through the end of the year.
The campaign, drawn up by Hawaii's largest advertising firm, Fawcett McDermott Cavanagh Inc., features a cross section of promotional pushes which include running a 16-page Hawaii/82 supplement in magazines like Time, Newsweek, the New Yorker, and Travel & Leisure; placing newspaper ads in daily papers across the country; running a poster campaign in airports and train stations; sponsoring a food products push in 20,000 supermarkets nationwide, in conjunction with a Reader's Digest Hawaii/82 sweepstakes; and running a Hawaii travel promotion with Ford Motor Company dealerships in northern California, southern Oregon, and Nevada.
''We're really hitting hard,'' sums up Andrew Gerakas, who is overseeing $200 ,000 of the $500,000 in state funds spent on Hawaii/82 as head of the industry and product promotion division of the state's Department of Planning and Economic Development. ''When tourism goes down, we get more aggressive.''
However, even as industry officials woo Mainland vacationers -- a group which constitutes approximately 64 percent of all visitors to Hawaii - they also have begun to focus more intensely on foreign markets, particularly within the Pacific Basin.
''There has been an overemphasis'' on the mainland US and Canada, ''especially with the booming developments in the Far East,'' says Kenneth Char, president of the Hawaii Vistors Bureau (HVB). The Pacific Basin, he says, is ''absolutely'' the tourism growth market of the coming decade.
Just two months ago, HVB announced a $3.5 million marketing program -- separate from Hawaii/82 -- in Japan, with almost the entire tab being picked up by Japan Air Lines. In addition, HVB will send a tourism delegation later this year to Taipei, Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore -- ''all areas of enormous disposable income,'' explains Mr. Char.
Although Hawaii/82 is a one-shot promotion, officials hope it will boost the state's tourism growth rate to about 5 percent annually. By the year 2000, however, state officials expect that rate to be about 1 percent a year as Hawaii attains its goals of controlled growth and diversification its economy away from its near-total reliance on tourism.