East Meets West in America’s 50th State
1 Sep, 2018By: Michael Popke
This Destination is 'Open to All New Opportunities’
The big news on the island of Hawaii (a.k.a. the Big Island) this year has been the Kilauea volcano, which erupted in May. Although substantial, the damage has been limited to about 10 square miles of the island’s 4,028 square miles, says George Szigeti, president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA). The volcano, he adds, has not affected sports tourism in the state, which is coming off three straight years of record-breaking hotel bookings.
“We don’t have a winter and we’re in the middle of the ocean, which makes Hawaii an ideal location for people on both sides of the world,” Szigeti says, referring to lush scenery, wondrous waterscapes and temperatures that average between 75 and 85 degrees Farenheit all year long. “We’ve made a concerted effort to make Hawaii a global destination.”
As such, the state has adapted an “east meets west” brand for its sports tourism business. When HTA invited the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Clippers to play two preseason games against the Toronto Raptors at the Stan Sheriff Center on the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus in October 2017, several fans from Japan and China were in the crowd.
And last February’s inaugural Pacific Rim Cup strengthened that east-meets-west theme with four soccer matches featuring the Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Columbus Crew SC of Major League Soccer, Iwaki FC from Japan’s Fukushima Prefectural Football League and Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo from the Japan Professional Football League. The event, held at Aloha Stadium in Central Oahu, also included a youth soccer clinic with players from all four teams.
Hawaii and its four primary islands — Kauai, Oahu, Maui and the island of Hawaii, are thriving, with high-profile sporting events happening on every one of them. They include activities such as standup paddleboarding (SUP), surfing, youth sports tournaments and the IRONMAN World Championship.
“We’re open to all new opportunities,” says Chris Sadayasu, HTA’s tourism brand manager.
Professional and College Basketball
The NBA’s Clippers enjoyed last year’s Hawaiian experience so much that they held a training camp in Honolulu for the second consecutive season in 2018 and played an exhibition game against the Sydney Kings of Australia in late September.
“The Hawaiian Islands are a favorite destination for travelers from Southern California and Australia, so this matchup against the Sydney Kings gives us an opportunity to expand our reach to potential travelers in two of our key source markets,” Szigeti says.
At the college level, the Maui Jim Maui Invitational has established itself as a premier early-season NCAA basketball tournament that has featured 118 schools from 26 conferences and 40 states over its 34-year history.
This year’s eight-team event takes place at the Lahaina Civic Center on Maui from November 19-21 with teams from all over the United States, including Arizona, Auburn, Duke, Gonzaga, Illinois, Iowa State, San Diego State and Xavier.
Meanwhile, the 2018 Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, scheduled for Dec. 22-25 at the Stan Sheriff Center, will feature home-state heroes Hawaii in an eight-team field that also includes Charlotte, Colorado, Indiana State, Rhode Island, St. Mary’s, TCU and UNLV.
In early 2018, HTA and the Hawaii Convention Center announced agreements with three national sports organizations to host futsal, basketball and volleyball tournaments on the center’s new modular sports courts, beginning this year.
All three tournaments, held in the facility’s Kamehameha Exhibit Hall, are designed to attract youth sports teams (as well as parents and families) from outside of the state to compete with teams from the islands.
The four-year agreement with U.S. Futsal to host the Pacific Futsal Cup is the organization’s first international tournament, while the three-year agreement with Amateur Athletic Union Basketball brings the Jam on It Pacific Rim Championships to Hawaii. And AAU Volleyball, the first organization to host a tournament on the convention center’s new courts in February 2017, returned in 2018.
“The Hawaii Convention Center’s sports courts are proving to be a valuable contributor to our sports marketing strategy, both in motivating groups to come here and also giving our local teams the opportunity to compete against teams from outside Hawaii without having to travel abroad,” Szigeti says.
Introduced in 2017, the portable surface can provide 28 volleyball or badminton courts, 18 basketball courts or 11 futsal courts. The convention center also boasts full-size hardwood basketball courts.
In addition to volleyball, basketball, futsal and badminton tournaments, the courts can accommodate wrestling, gymnastics, martial arts, table tennis, dance, cheerleading and group fitness activities.
The 17th annual Hawai’i Bowl is slated for December 22 at Aloha Stadium and pits teams representing Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference against each other.
A month later, on Jan. 19, 2019, the Polynesian Bowl — an all-star high school football game that kicked off for the first time in January 2017 — boasts about 90 elite football players, the majority of them of Polynesian descent. Also held at Aloha Stadium, the game is organized by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. This year’s head coaches will be Mike Bellotti (the winningest head coach in the University of Oregon’s history) and former Washington Redskins head coach Jim Zorn.
The Hawaiian Islands provide the ultimate scenic backdrop for golf events, and there is no shortage of professional events on the state’s schedule.
Kapalua’s Plantation Course on Maui is home of the PGA TOUR’s Sentry Tournament of Champions and has been recognized by Golfweek as the best golf course in Hawaii. The Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai on the island of Hawaii brings in pro players over age 50, and the Sony Open in Hawaii at Honolulu’s Waialae Country Club is part of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Series and takes place in January — when golf courses in most other states are unplayable.
Additionally, the LOTTE Championship at Ko Olina Golf Club on Oahu’s west side attracts some of the top female golfers in the world.
Beach Volleyball and Water Sports
Hawaii lays claim to inventing both beach volleyball and surfing. It’s therefore no surprise that HTA has partnered with the Association of Volleyball Professionals to present a first-of-its-kind international beach volleyball exhibition.
September’s AVP Hawaii Invitational in the heart of Waikiki features a stadium court that accommodates 1,500 fans to watch top male and female beach volleyball stars from around the world. A volleyball clinic, meet-and-greets with players, sunrise yoga and other activities will contribute to a festival atmosphere.
“We want to make this the premier tour stop in the world, one that the top players want to play,” Szigeti says.
Hawaii also is bolstering its surfing history with several events, including the Billabong Pipeline Masters at Banzai Pipeline in Oahu (the final event of the World Surf League Championship Tour) and the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing (a Hawaiian specialty series of professional surfing events).
Meanwhile, the Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships and the Maui Jim Pailolo Challenge make exciting use of the deep blue Pacific Ocean. The latter event is a 26-mile outrigger canoe endurance race from Fleming Beach, Maui, to Kaunakakai, Molokai, in channel crossing conditions and paddlers come from the United States, Canada, Australia and elsewhere to compete.
International competitors also descend on the island of Hawaii for the IRONMAN World Championship every October. More than an estimated 2,000 athletes compete in this 140.6-mile journey to earn the title of the ultimate IRONMAN.
Taken collectively, these events and more — along with increased television exposure— are reshaping sports tourism in Hawaii, according to Sadayasu. “They’ve opened people’s eyes to the fact that this is an ideal place to host a sporting event,” he says. “And when people leave, they want to come back.” SDM