Secret Agent Plan

To retain current visitor levels, OVB continues its Oahu Destination Specialist program

By: Marty Wentzel

Marty Wentzel We’re back!” That’s how Oahu Visitors Bureau executive director Les Enderton summed up the most recent industry report on domestic arrivals to Oahu this year.

According to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, Oahu welcomed 1.85 million visitors from the mainland from January through September, which is practically even with arrivals during the same period in 2001. Considering the impact of Sept. 11 on world travel, Enderton said he is very positive about his destination’s outlook for the coming year.

“Although certain circumstances, like the economy and world politics, are beyond our control, I believe that Oahu has bounced back from 9/11 extremely well,” Enderton said. “Of course, Japanese business is down, but that’s true everywhere.” OVB is addressing the Japanese slump with a new series of marketing efforts.

Travelers from North America comprise two-thirds of Oahu’s visitor counts. Enderton said OVB would continue addressing its key West Coast markets next year. At the same time, it will branch out to new destinations such as Phoenix, Sacramento, Orange County and Denver, all of which are more accessible to Oahu, thanks to increased service by such airlines as Hawaiian, Aloha and United. Enderton points to the Oahu Destination Specialist program as an integral piece of the island’s marketing plan.

Developed in conjunction with major Hawaii wholesalers, the multitiered program starts with four-hour seminars on the mainland. Each seminar brings in about 100 agents who have been invited by wholesalers based on their production level.

After weighing each agent’s responses during the seminars, OVB selects about half of the group to go to Oahu for one week of in-depth familiarization. Back on the mainland, program graduates become Oahu destination specialists and receive exclusive OVB sales support, but they must maintain a high level of business for the island in order to retain the specialist title.

According to OVB director of travel industry sales Stacey Martin, the 2003 Oahu Destination Specialist seminars will revisit California, working in conjunction with Hawaii World.

And, for the first time, OVB will present the specialist programs to agents in the Pacific Northwest, partnering with All About Hawaii.

“It’s very important for us to work with the wholesalers on this program, because they really know who the top-producing agents are,” Martin said. “The best way for agents to be selected for a seminar is to prove themselves to the wholesalers.”

Meanwhile, Oahu stands to make great strides in the coming year as a result of its recent stint as host of ASTA’s World Congress, Enderton said.

“The agents came here to learn, not just to have a vacation,” he said. “This was by far our most significant effort with the travel trade this year, and it will pay big dividends in the future.”

Martin said she was thrilled that well-qualified travel agents saw firsthand the recent beautification of Waikiki and experienced activities around Oahu.

“This is a key turning point for us as an island,” she said. “Every attendee I spoke with said they took part in this ASTA event because they want to be more successful as agents.”

“The entire industry in Hawaii appreciated and honored the agents in a very personal way,” Enderton added.