Chairwoman Touts Oahu's Diversity

Island's varied cultures, Waikiki beautification top her suggestions for agent sales topics

By: Marty Wentzel

Joni Paahao, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Aston Hotels & Resorts, has taken on a new role this year as chairwoman of the Oahu Visitors Bureau.

“Joni truly understands the message OVB is communicating about the diversity of Oahu,” said Les Enderton, the bureau’s director.

TravelAge West recently caught up with the Honolulu native for a chat about what’s new on the island and how agents can sell it effectively.

Q: What do you see as Oahu’s greatest challenge these days as a destination?

A: We are constantly competing with other sun and family-friendly destinations for visitors, which is especially challenging during the current downturn in the U.S. economy.

Q: Many travelers are bypassing Oahu for the neighbor islands due to an increase in direct flights from the mainland. How can Oahu compete?

A: While many mainland flights do head directly to the neighbor islands, Oahu still welcomes the largest number of visitors. (According to 2002 state tallies, Oahu had 4.2 million arrivals followed by Maui with 2 million.) In addition, our Hawaii-based airlines, Aloha and Hawaiian, are expanding into new markets with non-stop flights to Oahu from cities such as Sacramento, Orange County area, Burbank and Phoenix. Also, Delta launched direct flights from Salt Lake City to Oahu last year.

Q: What trends are you seeing among Oahu visitors?

A: At Aston, we’re seeing more families traveling together to Oahu. We’ve found that guests want to do more than sit on the beach; they want to discover the treasures of the destination. And, they’re looking for unique accommodations and experiences.

Q: What are some of the exciting things happening on Oahu?

A: The beautification projects and new programs in Waikiki have created a buzz on Oahu. Our bus system has been named the best public transportation in the nation. (2000-20001, by the American Public Transit Association) And, our hotels, attractions and experiences are relatively close to each other compared to other destinations, so it’s easy to explore the incredible diversity of the island.

Q: When you are host to visitors from the mainland, what do you do with them on Oahu?

A: One of my favorite things to do is share the gift of food. Oahu’s variety of culinary options reflects our diversity of cultures.

Q: What’s your advice to travel agents to help them sell Oahu?

A: It’s critical that agents know the destination and all it offers. OVB, Aston and other top Hawaii hospitality companies offer training throughout the year with special on-site immersion programs in Hawaii.

Agents who can’t take the time away from the office to learn about Oahu can do so via online site inspections.

Aston, for instance, offers virtual tours of our properties on our Web site,