How Well Do You Know Hawaii?

A new online course from the HVCB helps agents find out

By: Marty Wentzel

This is the first Image
Sample Web page from HVCB’s
Island Training Programs,
with Lanai page in foreground
When it comes to selling Hawaii, travel agents need more than just an undergraduate degree in the destination. These days, they better have a master’s. Tapping that trend and ever-ready to educate, the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau has released an island-by-island online study program designed to take each agent’s knowledge of Hawaii to its deepest level yet. Called the Island Graduate, the advanced certification program complements HVCB’s venerable Hawaii Destination Specialist initiative.

“Competition for the travel dollar is fierce,” said Julie Zadeh, HVCB’s managing director of travel-trade marketing. “Our travel-trade partners are constantly seeking new information about Hawaii. So, we decided to go beyond our overall Hawaii training program and develop certification courses for each of the islands.” Zadeh likened the original Hawaii Destination Specialist program to a 101 course, while the island-by-island classes are more akin to graduate work.

“The new program is very in depth, with off-the-beaten-path information and insider’s knowledge to help agents look like real experts in their clients’ eyes,” she said. “It’s a way to meet travel agents’ needs and help keep the destination fresh and top-of-mind when selling trips to their clients.”

For agents who already know the specific islands well, the graduate program can serve as a refresher, said Zadeh. Agents who are relatively new to selling the individual islands can benefit from it by learning how to connect clients with the vacation experience best suited to them.

HVCB called on travel industry consultant Marc Mancini to create the new Island Graduate program, which covers Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui and Hawaii’s Big Island.

“There were two challenges,” Mancini said. “The first was to take the training programs of HVCB’s island chapter bureaus all very good but very diverse and make them consistent in style, content, tone and structure. The second challenge was to do it all in a very short timeframe. However, my project managers, Phil and Doris Davidoff, are very efficient researchers and writers. We all worked in tandem and, thanks to some great materials that the island chapters and HVCB gave us, we pulled it off.”

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Hiking Haleakala is a classic
activity for visitors.
While Mancini hasn’t received any agent feedback on the new programs as yet, he said the island chapters are happy with the results.

“Considering how intimate they are with the material, that’s a good sign,” he said.

One travel-trade professional who has already taken the new online Maui, Molokai and Lanai programs is AAA Washington’s Ron Wigand.

“The courses provide good information in an environment that requires agents to be informed and up-to-date in order to successfully market and sell the destination amid increasing competition,” said Wigand. “This sort of in-depth knowledge gives an additional edge in helping to qualify the client and make the Hawaii sale.”

Wigand said he was very familiar with Hawaii to start with, so when it came time for him to take the Maui, Molokai and Lanai certification tests, he knew many of the answers already.

“However, as with any course, there are always additional pieces of information that are either new to you or that you may have forgotten,” he said.

At the beginning of each Island Graduate program, the material reminds agents of five basic strategies necessary to maximize their ability to sell a destination:

  • Agents must know the island deeply, and each part of that island.
  • They should understand the types of travelers who prefer that island.
  • They need to understand the individual client they’re dealing with.
  • They need to address any misgivings their clients bring up.
  • They must pursue ways to increase their profits from each vacation they sell.

    At the end of the Island Graduate program, the course promises that agents will be able to:

  • Satisfy client wants and needs using a newfound knowledge of population, transportation opportunities and accommodation choices.
  • Recommend and, in some cases, pre-sell attractions of interest to each client.
  • Employ a knowledge of the island’s history and culture to increase a client’s desire to visit that destination, enhancing the agent’s credibility as a true professional.
  • Match client preferences to Hawaii products and packages.
  • Identify the benefits of a Hawaii vacation, as opposed to simply its assets and features.
  • Convince clients to extend their stay for a better vacation.

    All six Island Graduate courses are free, and each can be completed in three to four hours. Agents can conduct the coursework at their own pace. Upon completion of each course and the passing of a final exam, agents become HVCB-certified as Island Graduates, qualifying them for continuing education credits from The Travel Institute. Graduates also receive access to complimentary HVCB sales and marketing tools like island maps, brochures, visitor guides, scenic images and promotional DVDs, plus information about trends research and product updates.

    Zadeh believes the new Island Graduate course provides all the tools necessary to help agents become bona fide Hawaii experts.

    “These resources give the travel trade community even more of an opportunity to sell Hawaii as a traveler’s first choice for an unforgettable vacation experience,” she said.


    Ke Kula O Hawaii (The School of Hawaii), the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau’s Hawaii Destination Specialist program, has certified 10,059 travel agents since its 1999 beginnings. HVCB’s Waikiki: Share the Experience training program, introduced in 2006, has 652 graduates.

    Its new Island Graduate course debuted online at the end of 2007, and HVCB recently spread the news during trade show events in Washington, Colorado and California.

    For more information on all of the bureau’s self-study training courses, agents can call HVCB’s toll-free number or visit its Web site.

    Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau