New products, technological tools and emerging markets were some of the key issues addressed during a pair of lively panel discussions about Hawaii at the recent TravelAge West ExecConnect conference.
Sharing their in-depth advice were five experts on travel to the Hawaiian Islands. Panelists included American Safari Cruises executive vice president of sales and marketing Tim Jacox; Aston Hotels and Resorts vice president of sales and revenue development Cara Goodrich; Blue Sky Tours marketing manager Charlotte Kerr; Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau managing director of travel trade marketing Julie Zadeh; and Pleasant Holidays vice president of marketing Amy Terada.
Audience members, most of whom were seasoned in selling Hawaii, said they were looking for new, effective ways to build their business to the islands at a time when the state faces continued competition from other sun-and-sand destinations. The double whammy of a sluggish economy and rising airfares has prompted agents to get more creative in selling the 50th state.
During the highly informative sessions, panelists came to the discussion armed with insider tips, essential news and resources to help agents sell Hawaii as effectively as possible. Agents came away with renewed enthusiasm for selling the destination with passion.
Hawaii’s tourism industry is showing solid signs of recovery after a two-year slump in visitor counts due to the economy. The forecast for the remainder of 2011 looks promising despite the predicted downturn in visitors from Japan following that country’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. With Japanese numbers down, HVCB has been pursuing new markets and stepping up promotions on the U.S. mainland.
The March 2011 tsunami that rolled into Hawaii’s Big Island — generated by Japan’s earthquake — did remarkably little damage. Four Seasons Resort Hualalai recently reopened following clean-up. The only property that remains closed is Kona Village Resort, which has been shuttered indefinitely.
Airlift from the mainland to Hawaii continues to rise, with the addition of more direct flights to Oahu and the neighboring islands. Airlines are looking beyond traditional gateways and launching service from secondary markets. Carriers are also starting to list special offers with reduced fares to the destination.
American Safari Cruises is launching new, unstructured inter-island yacht cruises to Hawaii, the first of their kind in the state. Running from Nov. 2011 to May 2012, the trips take place on the 36-guest Safari Explorer.
Disney’s Aulani Resort is opening on Aug. 29, in Ko Olina on the west coast of Oahu. It features 359 hotel rooms and 481 two-bedroom-equivalent Disney Vacation Club villas.
Waikiki Edition, a new 353-room urban hotel and part of the Marriott-Ian Schrager lifestyle brand of hotels, recently opened. It replaces the former Yacht Harbor Tower wing of the Ilikai hotel.
Hotel Hana-Maui is turning into Travaasa Hana as of June 1. The reinvented east Maui icon is switching to a more all-inclusive experience where rates cover rooms, meals, spa treatments and activities.
Panelists urged agents to take advantage of technological tools available to help them grow their Hawaii business.
HVCB’s travel trade website features a wide range of free sales and marketing resources for agents, from training courses to maps and brochures.
Hawaii wholesalers, hoteliers and suppliers are presenting a variety of ongoing webinars to help agents learn how to increase their sales.
American Safari Cruises features its own accreditation program. Once agents pass the course, they can experience its cruises at a significant discount.
Hotels are constantly offering fam trips and free nights to help agents explore the islands firsthand.
Market Niches of Note
While agents should keep pitching Hawaii to the ever-popular romance and destination wedding markets, panelists advised agents to tap emerging markets.
* Farm-to-Table Enthusiasts: There’s a growing trend in the islands toward promoting fresh, local cuisine. Agents can visit farms and see the food at its source; go to farmers’ markets and interact with the people who cultivate the products; and dine at restaurants that feature farm-to-table cuisine.
* Adventure Travelers: More people are looking for outdoor adventures during their vacations. Hawaii is loaded with opportunities to satisfy them, from ziplining to stand-up paddleboarding.
* Alternative Lifestyle Travel: As a harmonious melting pot of races and lifestyles, the islands are an ideal destination for the gay and lesbian market. Many hotels have trained their employees to address that emerging and lucrative market appropriately.
* Cultural Vacations: Hawaii’s rich culture is like none other in the world. Agents can enrich their clients’ vacations by including heritage and history excursions in their itineraries.
* Family: The word family has been reinvented from mom, dad and the kids to include everything from two couples to multiple generations traveling together. Hawaii hotels offer value-added family specials like free food for the kids and guaranteed connecting rooms.
Panelists urged agents to take the following steps to help them build their Hawaii business:
* Match clients with the right islands: Using the new diagnostic tool on HVCB’s agent website and other online resources, agents can customize each vacation and make sure it is perfectly suited for their clients.
* Make friends with members of Hawaii’s travel industry: The state’s people are friendly by nature, and by talking with them at trade shows, on fam trips or over the phone, agents can sell Hawaii with that same passion and spirit of aloha.
* Keep current with the product: Hawaii is constantly reinvesting in its inventory to keep itself fresh and exciting, and there are always new products to discover.
* Encourage the pre-booking of activities: Clients are guaranteed a complete vacation experience that includes their preferred pastimes and agents can increase their commission.
* Get clients to book early: There’s plenty of airlift available to Hawaii, and value-added hotel specials are listed well in advance of travel.