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Hawaii Lures Viewers to Spend 'Idol' Time Here

Oct 6th, 2003

by Nina Wu

While the final cut of "American Idol" hopefuls sing their hearts out at the Sheraton Waikiki's Hanohano Room this weekend to win a spot on the TV talent show, the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau is expecting a big boost both in tourist numbers and revenues.

Honolulu bumped Miami off the list of audition cities for the Fox TV talent series due in part to HVCB's efforts to court the show's producers.

"We thought an Emmy-nominated TV show could add excitement and energy to Hawaii's image, especially Waikiki," said David McNeil, partner at McNeil Wilson, the HVCB's public relations firm. "Waikiki is a glamorous place and it needs to have some excitement and buzz about it."

It's a chance to showcase Hawaii on prime-time TV before an audience of millions when the segment airs in January. What better way to promote Honolulu as a destination than to show "American Idol" judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson seated before a backdrop of Diamond Head and a deep, blue ocean in the middle of winter? Or the Waikiki beach boys teaching "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest how to surf?

Businesses help direct the spotlight

Hawaii has been a celebrity destination since the days of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, said HVCB interim Director Les Enderton. About a dozen movie and television productions chose Hawaii as a setting in the year 2002, including "ER" and "My Wife and Kids." "American Idol" adds to the legacy.

"This will bring in revenues and a high level of exposure," Enderton said.

HVCB began wooing "American Idol" producers in April. The show's supervising producer David Goffin said Hawaii became more alluring when Sheraton Waikiki offered 40 free rooms for the Los Angeles-based crew, along with complimentary round-trip tickets to and from Los Angeles courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines. Goffin said the crew was not originally considering Hawaii because of the distance and higher prices.

"They made it easy for us to find the venues and sponsorships," said Goffin. "It's definitely ideal. Polynesian culture has a history of music in its traditions."

In exchange, Hawaii sponsors will get free airtime on the 30-minute show. Both the Sheraton and Hawaiian Airlines will be featured prominently on the show.

McNeil said HVCB's budget does not allow it to buy TV commercials on network TV. Going on "American Idol" was an opportunity to showcase Hawaii on prime-time TV without buying airtime or paying a production fee. The marketing efforts amounted to a little less than $30,000. He estimated the cost of a 30-second commercial would have been about $600,000.

American Idol" averaged over 21 million viewers per episode in its second season, and drew 38 million viewers to its final show in May. Besides the title, the winner gets a recording contract.

A marketer's dream

The auditions this week became a prime opportunity for businesses to market to the younger demographic. A bevy of corporate sponsors, including AT&T Wireless, Subway and local radio stations I-94 FM and 104.3 XME were on hand at Aloha Stadium earlier this week, offering prizes and games for the hundreds of aspiring stars waiting for their first-round audition. AT&T Wireless handed out free plastic fans emblazoned with their logo -- which many contestants used in the sweltering heat.

Hawaii is the last stop for the show's contestant search, following Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Atlanta and San Francisco. McNeil said he expected contestants (ages 18 to 24) to flock to the auditions from near and far. And flock they did.

At least half of the 2,000 contestants camping out beneath umbrellas outside the stadium earlier this week had flown to Hawaii from the mainland.

Generating travel

Chelsey Merrill of Kansas decided to audition at the last minute. She and her sister will spend a week at the Ocean Resort Hotel Waikiki and make a vacation out of the audition trip. Others flew in from as far away as New Jersey, Tennessee and Indiana.

At least one hotel, Park Shore Waikiki, jumped on the bandwagon by advertising a special "Hawaii Idol" package for kamaaina guests during the taping of the film. Marketing and Sales Manager Aki Almario said the promotion was designed to target Hawaii contestants from the neighbor islands.

Many Hawaii residents, such as Kaipo Henriques, were auditioning for the first time. Henriques, a retail sales clerk at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai in Kona, took time off to come to the audition.

His instincts told him not to go for a Hawaiian song.

"I don't think it's what they're looking for," he said. "I think they're looking for Stevie Wonder kind of songs and other tunes from their time."

Besides all the hubbub "American Idol" is creating this week, McNeil said its airing in January should lure more visitors to the islands.

Filed under: American Idol


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