With all but two of the world’s climate zones, Hawaii Island calls to clients seeking geographic diversity. // © 2015 HTA Tor Johnson
Feature image (above): Kauai’s idyllic land- and seascapes have made the island a popular site for filming movies. // © 2015 HTA Dana Edmunds
Travelers to Hawaii are rewarded with warm, sunny weather and pristine beaches no matter which island they visit. But there is much more to a destination than its tropical stereotypes.
Each of the state’s six major islands lays claim to a distinctive identity, from Oahu’s town-and-country vibe and Maui’s breaching whales to Kauai’s massive sea cliffs and Hawaii Island’s red-hot lava.
But understanding what makes each island unique is just one piece of the puzzle. Since one person’s vision of paradise varies widely from another’s, travel agents must zero in on their clients’ interests and goals. Then, agents can use their Hawaii expertise to make each client’s dream a reality.
Determining Client Preferences and Passions
For Marilyn Clark, owner of Lighthouse Travel in Huntington Beach, Calif., the Hawaii planning process starts with a face-to-face conversation.
“Many clients have very busy schedules and prefer to communicate by email,” Clark said. “But as travel consultants, we must understand the type of experience our clients want to have in order to recommend the best island for their needs and desires. Taking the time for a qualifying process is essential.”
Teri Young, founder of Rocklin, Calif.-based DreamCatcher Vacations, agrees.
“I have found amazing differences in the way clients describe what they want in an email versus in a real conversation,” Young said. “As I listen to what’s on their Hawaii wish list — what they want to see and do, what sort of accommodations they want to stay in and so on — their spoken answers almost always tell me which island suits them best.”
Get to the heart of what clients are looking for and encourage them to ask questions, says Lu Maggiora of Luxury Latitudes in San Ramon, Calif.
“You want to hear them talk about their dreams for their Hawaii vacation, and you also want to hear about their disappointments on previous vacations,” she said.
Clark starts by asking her clients if they have been to Hawaii before and why they picked it for their vacation.
“Do they prefer a quiet experience or the excitement of crowds?” she said.
Teresa Olson of Santa Ana, Calif.-based Style Your Trip finds out if her clients are celebrating a particular occasion in Hawaii and if they are traveling as a family.
“Also, are they interested in seeing Hawaii’s famous sights? Are they open to experiencing its history, culture, traditions and local cuisine?” Olson said. “The more information I get, the better.”
Some think of Hawaii as an expensive destination, so the question of budget often comes into play, as well.
“Actually, Hawaii’s accommodations, restaurants, activities and attractions run the gamut price-wise,” Clark said. “For instance, the island of Lanai is known for its two high-end Four Seasons resorts, but it also has a well-priced, historical hotel and some vacation rentals. So while I do want to know about the client’s budget, it’s just one of the things I consider.”
Additional agent tools are available from Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, which, in 2010, went through an extensive process of branding every island with a one-word descriptor. As a result, agents can now call on those brands as they match clients with islands, with the ultimate goal of selling Hawaii as effectively as possible.
Oahu’s brand word — energizing — sums up the island’s widespread charms, according to Noelani Schilling-Wheeler, senior director of sales and marketing for Oahu Visitors Bureau (OVB).
“From an overall marketing perspective, OVB is targeting avid travelers who have never been to Hawaii or who are low repeaters,” she said. “This group of visitors also tends to be higher-spending. The Oahu experience appeals to romance travelers, multigenerational families, LGBT clients, outdoor lovers and culture and history buffs.”
Schilling-Wheeler is noticing a growth in Oahu voluntourism, from beach cleanups to work days at an ancient fishpond. Additionally, more people want to see the entire island instead of staying only in the famed tourist hub of Waikiki, she says.
From an agent’s standpoint, Olson of Style Your Trip suggests Oahu to active travelers who request an island with a vibrant nightlife and a shopping scene. She believes it’s also perfect for clients searching for Hawaii’s iconic experiences, such as Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor.
Lighthouse Travel’s Clark calls Oahu a culinary mecca, even for budget-minded visitors. She sings the praises of Eat the Street, a monthly food truck rally with gourmet carryout fare.
“You can find these trucks on the North Shore as well, along with the very popular shrimp trucks,” Clark said.
The island’s year-round festivals are another good source of dishes reflecting the array of cultures that call Hawaii home.
Hawaii Island’s promotional word — inspiring — conveys a personal, almost intangible experience, according to Ross Birch, executive director of Big Island Visitors Bureau (BIVB).
“What inspires me may not be what inspires you,” Birch said. “Our island is the largest of the Hawaiian chain. It has all but two of the world’s climate zones, creating geographic diversity unlike anywhere else. Perhaps the most recognizable asset of our island is our volcanoes and the hula, chants, storytelling and history that surround them. With such diversity, it is quite easy to find your inspiration here.”
For several years, BIVB has marketed to seasoned travelers who crave an active vacation experience, plus romantics, golfers and fans of culture and wellness, Birch says. Today’s Hawaii Island visitors also get fired up by adventures such as night diving with manta rays, ziplining, horseback riding and exploring the island’s national parks.
Lately, BIVB has been courting what Birch refers to as the “never-beens,” or people who haven’t yet visited any of the Hawaii islands.
“The never-beens look for authenticity in their travel experiences,” Birch said. “We feel we have a lot to share in that regard.”
For Maggiora of Luxury Latitudes, Hawaii Island springs to mind for a range of clients, including those drawn to agricultural tourism. It’s teeming with farms showcasing crops such as coffee, vanilla, macadamia nuts, mushrooms and a bounty of tropical fruits.
Rejuvenating is the word chosen to market Kauai. The island’s easy pace and stunning environment caters to the romance market, nature enthusiasts and soft-adventure travelers, according to Maile Brown, director of marketing for Kauai Visitors Bureau (KVB).
“In our lush, peaceful, idyllic setting, visitors can escape the busy-ness of life and experience a vacation that allows them to restore their sense of well-being,” Brown said.
Golf plays a large part in KVB’s marketing outreach due to its abundance of courses designed by renowned architects. In addition, KVB is encouraging foodies to consider Kauai, thanks to the island’s new restaurants, food tours and farm-to-table innovations.
“Clients looking for culture and history have plenty of options on Kauai, such as a guided tour of Hawaii’s only remaining rice mill that dates back to the 1800s,” Brown said. “There are also opportunities for volunteering, including adopting a dog for the day at Kauai Humane Society.”
Young of DreamCatcher Vacations offers a personal tip that helps her decide if Kauai is right for her clients.
“I tell them, ‘Kauai is the one island that looks like what people expect to see in Hawaii, even if they have never been there before,’” she said.
Young chalks it up to Kauai’s starring role in dozens of movies over the years, including the recent blockbuster hit “Jurassic World.”
Advertised with the word captivating, Maui entices clients eager for variety and spontaneous adventure, according to Chris Kaiaokamalie, director of sales for Maui Visitors and Convention Bureau (MVB).
“Our guests want to know that there are lots of options available, and they want to have the freedom to be as active or relaxed as they choose, all on the spur of the moment,” he said. “Maui visitors enjoy nature. They like strolling through shops and discovering island artisans. We continue to pursue couples, families and eco-travelers.”
While Maui’s natural beauty, diverse offerings, history and culture have long lured travelers, clients are exhibiting a growing curiosity about the island’s dining scene and agritourism.
“More and more people are looking for off-the-beaten-path activities, such as eating and shopping where locals do,” Kaiaokamalie said. “We often receive requests for very specific things such as cooking classes and farm stays. Visitors are also interested in our festivals and events.”
Travel agent Olson finds Maui superb for sophisticated clients who lean toward luxurious resorts. She likes to recommend singular upcountry Maui pastimes such as wine tasting at Ulupalakua Ranch and sampling handcrafted cheeses at Surfing Goat Dairy.
Molokai and Lanai
Molokai is billed as enlightening. Kaiaokamalie of MVB says to think of it as a place where residents still practice the traditional Hawaiian lifestyle.
“With its quiet roads, Molokai is great for clients who like to stay open to the unexpected, from talking story with locals to embarking on outdoor adventures,” he said.
Travel agent Maggiora proposes Molokai to clients who are appreciative of Hawaiian history and curious to learn more.
“It’s ideal for travelers who are truly looking for the ultimate getaway without the bells and whistles of the more touristed islands — a simple vacation that absolutely doesn’t require nightlife,” Maggiora said.
Several agents singled out Molokai’s Kalaupapa National Historical Park — the isolated cliff-lined peninsula and former leper colony — as a must for clients with a passion for the past.
Lanai, branded as embracing, calls to travelers seeking solitude and serenity alongside luxury.
“Visitors to Lanai enjoy being pampered, but they also respond to the beauty of the outdoors,” Kaiaokamalie said. “They want to be relaxed but not bored, active but not overly so.”
With its pairing of posh resorts and top-notch golf, sailing and snorkeling, Lanai is a fine choice for upscale clients. At the same time, Lanai visitors can get down and dirty during ATV tours, hikes and mountain-bike rides. For clients compelled by Hawaiian culture, many agents recommended a four-wheel-drive outing to Lanai’s Garden of the Gods, an otherworldly rock garden formed over hundreds of years and imbued with legends and lore.
Like picking that special spouse or the right place to live, selecting the appropriate Hawaiian island requires soul-searching and honest evaluation. But when guided by an astute and dedicated travel professional, the process can reap terrific benefits. The traveler will be rewarded with a hugely satisfying vacation in the Aloha State, and the agent might just earn a client for life.