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Cargo loading: air cargo association of Hawaii president Malou Portugal says the industry can do more to help Hawaii's businesses expand offshore.

In the wake of 9/11, Hawaii's air-cargo companies feared that more stringent security measures would severely handicap their business. This year, the number of participants at October's Hawaii International Air Cargo Symposium doubled over the previous year--from 82 to 182--signaling an end to the malaise. Much of that increase in participation was due to the boundless energy exuded by Air Cargo Association of Hawaii president Malou Portugal. "I was like a bull in a china cabinet," she says, pushing her colleagues to anticipate their customers' business needs, and to include customers in discussions about the future of the industry. "I went to all the nonprofits, the chambers of commerce. I promoted the symposium every time I was on a sales call," she says.

Portugal's tenacity has been her trademark since she was a teenager, when she moved to Kauai from the Philippines, then to New Jersey with her then-husband, where she began her 20-year FedEx career as a customer service agent. Later divorced, she continued to climb the corporate ladder as a sing[e parent while raising her two children. Over the years, she earned a number of sales recognition awards, and now serves 400 accounts in Hawaii as a senior sales executive.

Portugal's career trajectory has mirrored the growth of' the air-cargo industry itself. While most goods come into Hawaii by sea, the value of air cargo is much higher. Air cargo ships only 4 percent of all foreign exports from Hawaii by weight, but, at $205 million, the value of air cargo comprises 57 percent of all foreign exports out of Hawaii, according to census figures. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that the strongest export market for Hawaii is Australia, which has a 39 percent share of air cargo, followed closely by Japan, at 25 percent. Boeing World Air Cargo Forecast estimates that worldwide cargo traffic is set to grow by 6 percent per year over the next 20 years, outpacing the projected 5 percent growth for passenger traffic. Within the Asia-Pacific region, that growth is estimated to be as high as 8.5 percent.

Q: What is the relationship between tourism and air cargo in Hawaii's economy?

Both tourism and cargo play a major role in Hawaii's economic activity. People tend to think that, if tourism numbers are high, then that leaves less room for cargo, because cargo is low-yield [in terms of revenues for airlines] while passengers are high-yield. But the upward trend in Hawaii's tourism actually paves the way to exporting, because it creates more movement of Hawaiian products by air cargo. As [state office tourism liaison] Marsha Wienert said at the air-cargo symposium, more airline seat capacity means more room for belly cargo.

Q: How has the air-cargo industry adapted to a changing marketplace?

Air cargo plays a major role in trade-driven expansion. While the power of information technology had made domestic and global connectivity possible, it is air cargo that materializes the concept of connectivity. You can have a virtual concept, but air cargo is tangible evidence that it actually happens ... without air cargo, there is no trade.

Remember the time when e-commerce was introduced, and people were nonchalant about it? Because to them, it's a concept, but look at what e-commerce is now! Remember when people were doing email, and people were saving, what's that? But now we can't live without email, you know? That's why a progressive air-cargo company should have proactive thinking.

Q: How can air-cargo companies in Hawaii participate in the overall growth of the industry?

One of the objectives of the Air Cargo Association is to exchange ideas among air cargo members. It's good to share information, but we've got to elevate it. Go out there, get a bigger audience, invite customers ... I want the next conference to have more exporters, shippers, customers, people representing the business community in Hawaii, so they can be educated on how to ship, know all the tools to use in order to ship international, what paperwork to use ... and learn about all the international shipping lingo that they're not familiar with. Because sometimes they have the product, but they don't know how to do it, or they feel intimidated. I want this to be an avenue to educate exporters.

Q: What types of trends do those in the air-cargo industry need to keep track of?

In the past, people would say, [transporting goods from] airport-to-airport is sufficient. But that's not the demand anymore of customers. They want products to be delivered to the end users ... the buzzword is direct marketing. I was reading Air Cargo World, that's a Web site I visit once or twice a week, and the demand now of customers is, when they deliver a computer, they want the computer assembled! I mean, customers are becoming really pampered! If customers already have that demand, what's next? Air cargo is no longer going to be a point A to point B, it's got to be direct marketing, it's got to get to the end users.

Q: That may be easy for someone who works for a large company like FedEx, but how can other companies address these issues?

The buzzword is response to customer satisfaction. My job is more consultative selling than maybe other companies, but even if I were working for Brand XYZ Air Cargo Company. I would tell the CEO the same thing, that we need to respond to customer needs! You may not be able to replicate the concept of a national company, but if you have at least an application to a specific niche market, you need your competitive edge. Whether it's air cargo, air freight, express, the bottom line is customer satisfaction. We're not living in the cave age here; this is no longer the dinosaur age! We can't just sit and wait for the phone to ring anymore.
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Title Annotation:road ahead; Hawaii International Air Cargo Symposium
Comment:Cargo loading: air cargo association of Hawaii president Malou Portugal says the industry can do more to help Hawaii's businesses expand offshore.(road ahead)(Hawaii International Air Cargo Symposium)
Author:Torres-Kitamura, Maria
Publication:Hawaii Business
Geographic Code:1U9HI
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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