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Archive for Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Maui Invitational Faithful make trip to Hawaii

November 21, 2001

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— Lahaina, Hawaii Walt Houk has been to Hawaii so many times he has lost track.

"Jiminy, I'd say in excess of 100. I started in 1959," said Houk, owner of Lawrence's Travellers travel agency. "In those early years I'd make a bunch of trips a year back and forth."

Houk is back in Hawaii again for this week's Maui Invitational basketball tournament in Lahaina.

With him are about 400 Kansas University fans who traveled to Maui as part of a Travellers' package. It's the first time in five years that the Jayhawks have played in the Maui Invitational. The group traveled to Hawaii Saturday and is split between two big hotels.

Despite the downturn in the economy and travel fears related to terrorist attacks, Houk said, this year's trip was sold out.

"We could have brought even more people had we had more game tickets," he said. "But 400 was as many as we could get our hands on."

The Travellers' group doesn't make up the entire contingent of KU fans at the tournament. Houk estimated that about 800 Jayhawk faithful are in Maui.

Bob and Sharon Hess of Topeka are among those who traveled to the island on their own. They had a somewhat novel means of obtaining tickets: They bought a season-ticket package from Chaminade, the Hawaii school in the tournament field.

"They gave us a media guide and everything," Bob Hess explained. "We have a packet of about 12 games. We became Chaminade ticketholders to see KU in this tournament."

Houk, of course, has offered the Kansas fans advice on what to do during their week-long Thanksgiving stay.

"The must-dos are to relax and have a good time on the beach," Houk said. "Of course, you've got to see the (Maui Invitational) ball games. When you get done with that, you go to the beach. All the beaches are public."

Other recommendations are taking rental cars around the island.

"The areas we stay in by the team ... a lot of people won't leave that area because we are close to Whaler's Village, a shopping village with good restaurants, which is a 10-minute walk on the sidewalk from our hotel," he said. "Eating fresh seafood is another must."

Prices are expensive in Maui with hotel rooms as much as $200 a night. Gasoline costs more than $2 per gallon, and food is costly.

The Sept. 11 tragedy has hurt the tourist business here.

"Fear of flying is what's hurt them," Houk said of the Hawaiian economy. "You have to fly to get there. Occupancy is down 25 percent is the numbers I've heard."

But Maui isn't hurting during this tournament week.

"Rates are extremely expensive when an event such as this tournament is going on," Houk said. "Hawaii's business has been up and down the past five years or so but not distressed by any means."

How does Houk know so much about the islands?

"When we set up tours 30 years ago, I actually went over to the Big Island and stayed a month," Houk said of the more remote island of Hawaii, not the most popular tourist destination. "We explored everything. We've taken the staff there for site inspection trips."

Houk has been to the less popular islands of Hawaii, Kauai, Lanai and Molokai and to the two most popular tourist areas Oahu, home of Honolulu, and Maui, site of the invitational.

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