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desk overlooking Hawaiian landscape

New Yorkers Flock to Hawaii for Professional Rejuvenation

Sarah Steimer

desk overlooking Hawaiian landscape

Young professionals are more interested in blending work and play, using their travels to re-energize their careers. Through a professional residency program and ad campaign, Hawaii asked New Yorkers to consider its islands as their muse.

Goal

Americans are notoriously bad at vacationing. The U.S. is the only advanced economy that doesn’t guarantee workers any paid time off, and—according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research—a quarter of America’s private-sector workers don’t receive any time off at all. Those working for companies that do provide PTO have an average vacation time of 15 days per year, still lower than the minimum amount legally required in 19 of the wealthiest countries in the world.

But even those with PTO aren’t always using it. U.S. Travel’s “Project: Time Off” initiative found that 55% of Americans said they lost vacation time that went unused in 2018, and more than a quarter (27.2%) of PTO went unused in 2018.

So, what’s a tropical paradise have to do to get a little attention these days—especially from work-obsessed New Yorkers? While the vacation statistics don’t paint a rosy picture, one fact gave the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau hope: 96% of New York millennials believe that getting away from their work routine is essential to driving their creativity. The bureau and its agency, Edelman, saw an opportunity to pitch Hawaii not as a place to get away from it all, but as a place to re-energize their career.

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After all, of the numerous workplace acronyms, few are as beloved as WFH (working from home) or even OOO (out of office). What could be better than finishing up a presentation in your pajamas from the comfort of your home office?

Maybe if that home office had views of Hulopoe Beach on the Hawaiian island of Lanai.

Because most travelers to Hawaii have to fly there, the state has quite a bit of data on who’s coming, when and from where. The HVCB used this data to identify about 26.3 million potential visitors from across the U.S., finding New York City to have the largest percentage of its target audience.

“We saw that there was an opportunity to increase business by focusing on New York, particularly since we’ve been doing really well on the West Coast,” says Jay Talwar, CMO of HVCB. “We knew the challenges were myriad, [such as the] time, distance and misperceptions about the destination. We really saw it as a challenge, but certainly it’s an opportunity.”

The misperceptions Talwar references came from survey research, which found that some people consider Hawaii dated or kitschy, or that it’s expensive and perhaps not so exotic given that it’s part of the U.S.

“When we start talking about the individual islands—Molokai, Kauai, Maui—people start conjuring up different imagery,” Talwar says. “It was key to us in terms of messaging to define the Hawaiian Islands as a series of six unique islands, each with their own set of experiences.”

The other significant misperception that HVCB and Edelman had to contend with was that Hawaii is merely a place for people to post up on the beach. Certainly, that happens plenty. But to target New Yorkers, who often define themselves by their careers, the state needed to show how attractive it is not only for people looking to unplug, but also for those on a quest to up their game. The new world of travel required Hawaii to prove itself as a place to recharge—both personally and professionally.

Action

Hawaii Tourism United States commissioned a survey, conducted by Wakefield Research, of more than 1,000 Americans, finding that 60% have worked during a vacation. The survey also found that 83% of millennial respondents feel more productive when they work away from a traditional office setting, and feel they would benefit in both productivity (83%) and creativity (91%) from combining work with play.

From there, Edelman devised a campaign that would entice New Yorkers to visit the Hawaiian Islands—there are eight main islands, but they focused on the six that Talwar says people typically visit. The campaign was a professional residency contest designed to draw the attention of professionals from the top careers in the city. HVCB and Edelman used their island branding research to guide which professional would benefit from which island’s experience offerings. For example, they positioned Oahu as the perfect destination for a designer, with opportunities to participate in Honolulu’s arts scene, collaborate with local artists and learn about traditional Hawaiian design techniques.

To promote the residency program—cheekily called WFH, or Work from Hawaii—ads went up on professional touchpoints: social media, WeTransfer, WeWork spaces and other out-of-home locations along New Yorkers’ commutes. The team used Facebook interest data and heat mapped neighborhoods to target the right professionals, even directly inviting many to apply for the residencies via LinkedIn.

“To come to a New Yorker with the proposition of taking vacation, to leave your work behind, that’s not the mindset of the career-focused hustle of a New Yorker,” says Kelson Berkus, senior vice president and creative director at Edelman. “We invited New Yorkers to bring their hustle with them to Hawaii. It’s also building on a trend that we were observing: There’s this ‘bleisure,’ which are business-leisure trips. You’ve got digital nomads who now are untethered from their offices and able to be productive and telecommute. And there’s so many different ways to stay focused and collaborative—that idea that the time off makes your time on better.”

Hawaii would be the muse for six of New York’s top professionals: a designer in Oahu, writer in Molokai, business leader in Lanai, location scout in Kauai, digital creator in Maui and musician on the Big Island. “What if this was a trip where it was designed to inspire the best work of their life?” Berkus says.

If nothing else, the campaign inspired more than 2,000 New Yorkers to apply.

Result

Only six New Yorkers were chosen for the residency program, but the campaign piqued the interest of many more. There was a 53% increase in organic travel queries from New York, and the campaign helped to generate a $342 million increase in U.S. East visitor spending across the islands.

“Earned media was a huge part of this [campaign],” says Charlotte Bruner, senior vice president and account and client lead at Edelman. “This was really driven by what we call ‘Edelman earned creative.’ As we’re thinking through campaign ideas, we’re really thinking through how we’re going to earn attention in the market. This campaign really did that. It’s hugely successful from an earned media standpoint, and had a lot of coverage across a number of local and national media outlets.”

Press coverage included mentions in New York Post, Mic, Thrillist, Fast Company, Time, Apartment Therapy, Travel + Leisure, Mental Floss and Forbes. Earned media impressions totaled more than 500 million.

The campaign also helped change Hawaii’s image as a destination once found in honeymoon photos from the Greatest Generation to a more inspirational spot to help recharge career-minded millennials and boost them to the top of their professional game.

Says Talwar, “It’s more about inspiration than pure relaxation.”

Sarah Steimer is a staff writer for the AMA's magazines and e-newsletters. She may be reached at ssteimer@ama.org or on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.