Island Lure

Tips for selling spring travel to Hawaii

By: By Marty Wentzel

Hawaii: Spring On Sale

Hawaii Spring On Sale 03.02.09 Cover

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From a historical perspective, West Coast travel agencies usually face a pent-up customer demand for spring travel to Hawaii. But this year, said San Diego Travel Group president Tim Smith, Hawaii will be a much harder sell due to current economic concerns.

"Last year, the recession was on the horizon, so a wait-and-see attitude was prevalent among wholesalers," Smith said. "Now, following a well-documented, six-month slowdown, they are being much more aggressive in packaging and selling Hawaii. Their offers are effectively stimulating the market with deals that are almost too good to be true. Inventories are generous, and there are numerous opportunities to upgrade clients with equally aggressive pricing. This bodes well for travel agencies who are hopeful that reduced pricing to Hawaii will trigger a renewed interest for consumers to seize the moment and travel now."

Wholesalers are offering aggressive deals to the islands this spring. // (c) Ahu Visitors Bureau
Wholesalers are offering aggressive deals to the islands this spring.

Still, there are clients who remain reticent to travel. For those people, agencies need to employ more aggressive tactics to make a spring sale, Smith said.

"Our consumers fall into two specific categories," he said. "First, there are the ‘diehards’ who continue to travel despite the declining market. In courting these customers, it’s business as usual. However, we’ve stepped up our e-marketing to make them aware of the value-added deals that exist."

Then, there are the clients who Smith called the "elusive ones."

In order for travel agencies to maintain or increase their share of the Hawaii market, they must be much more aggressive in their marketing, Smith noted.

"In an uncertain economy, every agency must step up its database marketing, direct mail and telemarketing," he said. "If agents aren’t using ClientBase+ or a product like it, they are at risk. In a depressed economy, we have to be innovative. Managing your database has become a matter of urgency for most successful agencies."

Smith said that one-on-one marketing is particularly important.

"[Agents] possess detailed information on past customers that can serve as an immediate resource and remedy for sagging sales. They will have to take their fight to the street if they want to stimulate this shrinking market."

Being a generalist in Hawaii is no longer good enough to close the sale, Smith added.

"In this highly competitive market, the knowledgeable agents will always come out on top. When you talk to the right people about the right product, the probability for success is much higher. Consumers have become far more discriminating and precise in their expectations. The Internet has educated them. If our knowledge doesn’t surpass theirs, we become expendable … with a click."

Given the many challenges in the current marketplace, Smith suggested some strategies for agencies to consider:

• Segment your market and target affinity groups, not just individuals.

"Hawaii is still an incredibly popular destination, and groups travel even during economic woes. One affinity group will make up for a lot of lost individual sales."

Bring Hawaii to your local market.

"Most vendors will support evening or weekend events that spotlight their products."

• Take your message to the street.

"Agencies have become too comfortable waiting for the business to walk in the front door. Assign agents the task of calling past clients to promote Hawaii."

• Become a better communicator.

"The market evolves and changes every year, and we have to be effective changelings. Become a legitimate expert and communicate your superior knowledge to your clients. They need someone they can trust. This will allow you to become an indispensable part of the sale process."

• Work with your preferred wholesale partners.

"They are every bit as anxious as you are to stimulate sales. Look for joint marketing opportunities, agent incentives and contests within your offices. In most instances, your partners will be happy to participate. In fact, they will undoubtedly be willing to lead the charge."

• Take advantage of Web technology tools.

"This includes online booking engines for Hawaii. Make sure these engines are on your Web sites. Many customers prefer to work through an agency but also savor the independence of ‘doing it themselves.’ It’s another way to sell Hawaii, and it creates some beautiful commission checks with no associated labor costs."