Hawaii for Meetings and Incentives Hawaii is already a popular site for association meetings, but the lack of a convention center has kept it off many planners' lists when organizing large gatherings. All that is due to change, however, with the July 1998 opening of the long-awaited Hawai'i Convention Center, which will add 1.16 million square feet of dedicated conference and exhibition space to complement Oahu's already-impressive group facilities in the hotels and resorts of Waikiki.

"Hawaii has always been a destination our members like, but we haven't met there for 20 years because our membership has grown by leaps and bounds, and they just could not accommodate us," says Gloria Caoile, special assistant to the president at Washington, DCbased American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees. Caoile's group will be one of the first to use the new convention center, with some 7,000 members coming in August 1998 for the annual convention.

"The intention of the convention center is to diversify our visitor mix, because we are fairly still a vacation destination, with the business market on Oahu just seven or eight percent of the total," says Janet Clark, executive director of the Waikiki/Oahu Visitors Association.

Indeed, hoteliers throughout Hawaii welcome the new convention facility with open arms. "We look toward it as an opportunity to even out our flow of business, especially during the shoulder months," says Jon Conching, director of sales at Waikiki's Hilton Hawaiian Village.

That excitement has spread throughout the islands, with many hotels expecting to reap the benefits of pre- and post-meeting vacations. "Overall we see it as a wonderful thing," says Kathy Van Vechten, area director of marketing for Four Seasons Hawaii. "If someone is going as far away as Hawaii to attend a meeting, they may as well take another few days to explore another island."

Hawaii has certainly never been a tough sale for associations, particularly those with smaller, specialized meetings that do not require a convention center. Shirley Knowles, director of meetings and conventions for the National Association of Federal Credit Unions in Arlington, VA, has used Maui, the Big Island, and Honolulu for a variety of meetings. The association plans to hold its annual convention of 2,500 delegates at the Hawai'i Convention Center in the year 2000.