Kauai’s Global Ambassador
The Garden Isle tourism industry continues to hum along nicely, thanks to the efforts of Maile Brown, director of marketing for Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau.
Kaua‘i’s fluted mountains, verdant valleys and gorgeous beaches are among the many reasons visitors flock to the island each year. In fact, Kaua‘i’s abundant natural beauty is what sets the aptly named Garden Isle apart from the rest of Hawai‘i.
“Hands down,” reaffirms Maile Brown, director of marketing for Kaua‘i Visitors Bureau.
The island practically markets itself, which makes her job promoting it to travel agents around the globe that much easier. But without her and the rest of the staff at KVB, she says, tourism wouldn’t nearly be as prosperous as it is.
KVB is a private nonprofit division of Hawai‘i Visitors and Convention Bureau.
Hawai‘i Tourism Authority contracts HVCB to market the Hawaiian Islands to the United States, a venture funded from a percentage of the Transient Accommodations Tax. This makes up the majority of the funding for KVB. Grants from the county also play a financial role in KVB’s marketing efforts.
One of the many facets of Brown’s position includes scheduling KVB’s Master Specialist Program — an immersion program for travel agents that brings them to the island for about five days. These trips let agents experience adventures like National Tropical Botanical Garden’s Allerton sunset tour.
At first, she says, the agents will seem crestfallen because they don’t yet understand just how stunning even a “garden tour” is on Kaua‘i. But the sentiment quickly changes as soon they begin their descent into the richly ornate Lāwa‘i Kai. These kinds of activities ensure her guests gain as comprehensive of an experience of the island as possible, including learning about its natural and cultural history.
“They can sell the island the way that it needs to be sold,” says Brown, who has such a vibrant personality that it’s understandable why she is so good at what she does.
When she receives an opportunity to join the agents during their visits to Kaua‘i, she says, it’s also chance for her to gaze at the island through their eyes — with a renewed sense of wonder.
“And that’s pretty amazing,” she says.
Her job also entails traveling to cities like Phoenix, Chicago and Denver, as well as international hubs like Europe and Asia, to impart wisdom to travel agents — who, by the way, are still abundant despite the advent of the internet.
“Maile is our road warrior and travels the world sharing Kaua‘i’s message of what sets us apart as a travel destination,” says Sue Kanoho, executive director of KVB, who has worked with Brown for the past 12 years. “Whether it’s a presentation to 300 travel agents on the Mainland, answering questions about Kaua‘i at a trade show, or hosting a travel writer on the island, people remember Maile and her passion for Kaua‘i.”
Brown says one of the best parts about being employed with KVB is not just flying around the world pitching Kaua‘i to travel agents, but returning home. She loves getting off the plane and seeing the excitement of new arrivals at the baggage claim who are often overly excited and already taking pictures.
“I’m like, ‘You’re in for a treat; if you’re taking pictures of the airport, then you’re in for a treat,'” she says. “They have a tremendous appreciation for things that we locals can sometimes take for granted.”
The job does, however, come with a unique set of challenges. For one thing, social media has changed the face of the tourism industry — at times, for the best, but that’s not always the case.
“It can be your biggest friend, but it can also be your worst nightmare,” says Brown.
While many photos depict how beautiful the island is, enticing people to visit, plenty of dangerous locales are also highlighted, inspiring visitors to take unnecessary, life-threatening risks.
“And there’s nothing we can do about it,” says Brown.
Another part of the job that can be daunting is facing the criticism that arises as visitor arrivals continue to climb on an increasingly crowded island. But even though additional flights to Kaua‘i are expected to raise seat capacity by more than 40 percent in 2018, KVB monitors the progression and works with stakeholders to develop strategic plans to continue making sure the island remains economically prosperous and, at the same time, a place that people continue to love to live.
“There’s that balance,” says Brown, who also reviews each photo and every word KVB uses in advertising and promotions in order to ensure its accuracy and appropriateness.
Summertime is often when people “really feel the crunch,” she says. It’s when visitor arrivals peak and school is out, causing traffic to escalate — along with residents’ tension.
“But we also see that everything is prosperous,” she says. “People have jobs and they’re hiring. So, there’s that catch-22.”
Brown has been affiliated with the ups and downs of the tourism industry ever since graduating from the University of Southern Colorado (since renamed Colorado State University at Pueblo), where she majored in marketing and public relations. Born in Korea, but adopted at 6 months old, she spent her first four years of life on Maui and the rest of her childhood in Hilo. She always knew she wanted to return to her home state to work.
But before moving back, she lived on the “ninth island” of Las Vegas and gained experience in the hospitality trade working at a hotel along the California/Nevada state line, where she started as a sales coordinator and became manager of sales. About six years later, in 2005, she scooped up the travel industry sales manager position at KVB and eventually found her niche as director of marketing.
The job allows her to continually explore and appreciate everything the island has to offer. And on busy days, when she’s rushing into the KVB office in Līhu‘e from her Kōloa home, it reminds her to raise her eyes above the steering wheel and take a look around.
“And all of a sudden, I’m looking at these emerald-green mountains and the ocean in front of me,” she says.
It’s easier to feel that there’s nothing to complain about when you are constantly reminded to gain that sense of visitor awe. And when she’s not traveling or working at the office on Kaua‘i, she revives her reverence for the island by lounging at a picture-perfect South Shore beach, soaking in the tropical sun.
“At the end of the day, what I do is, hopefully, helping keep Kaua‘i ticking as far as the tourism industry,” she says. “I think that’s very rewarding.”