The Family Focus

Oahu’s a natural for family business

By: Dawna L. Robertson

Oahu is the perfect destination for families.
Oahu is the perfect
destination for families.
When Laura Hunt and her family agreed on Oahu for their annual vacation, she spent hours combing Web sites for activities matching the diverse interests of her teenage daughters and husband.

“I learned a lot about what Oahu offered,” said Hunt. “But it was hard for me to link it all so we’d have something for each of us and then things to bring us back together again as one. Oahu has so much going on that I was overwhelmed with it all.”

Then one of Hunt’s neighbors referred a travel agent who had not only booked a family reunion to the island, but had also created a portfolio of activities applauded across the board. Hunt made a call and ended up with an itinerary that made her a hero.

The key to creating successful vacations like Hunt’s is to dissect a family rather than treat it as a single unit, according to Stacey Alford, the Oahu Visitor Bureau’s (OVB) director of travel industry sales.

Aside from staying on top of what’s new on an island that continuously improves and expands its offerings, Alford promotes a two-tiered process for qualifying family travelers.

“People want to feel that their vacation is perfect for them as individuals,” said Alford. “So agents need to be in tune with client passions. Family travel is about bonding and spending time together, but each family member also seeks personal fulfillment.”

Alford’s goal is to help agents see the necessity of profiling each traveler in the family.

“Maybe mom’s hobby is quilting,” she said. “The 17-year-old son is into surfing. The 3-year-old daughter is big on the beach. It’s important to know what each one enjoys.”

Family surfing
The family that surfs together, stays together.
By taking this approach, Alford finds that agents can provide insider tips, connecting individuals to their favorite pursuits. She adds that this is especially essential with Oahu-bound clientele since the island’s competitive edge lies in its depth of its itineraries, excursions and activities.

The second phase Alford stresses is determining what the family does together taking those individual interests to create perfect matches for the family as a whole. Once it’s established, agents can take this strategy and match it to the product.

“It creates accountability for client management,” Alford said. “You really need to know your client well rather than lumping them into a singular family category. When you take that step into profiling, your role as an agent is going to shine.”

“Whenever we have the opportunity to mentor our travel-agent partners on the family market, we provide tips on how to gain in-depth knowledge,” Alford said. “We urge agents to go niche within a niche within a niche. Just keep going deeper.”

Chris Russo, owner of Travel Partners in Broomfield, Colo., agrees that family profiling and qualifying gives his agency an edge in helping vacations exceed client expectations. It also helps generate repeat business.

Russo praises the OVB’s mentoring support and participation in initiatives like the Hawaii Island Specialist Program. In fact, Russo and his staff are so experienced with Oahu travel that the agency has created a dedicated Web site ( focusing on the island.

“Because we visit Oahu so often, the site features our personal experiences and photos,” said Russo.

Travel Partners sees an advantage with this hands-on knowledge.

“With all the changes even with someone like me who goes to Oahu every year you need to get over there to see new things like the Waikiki Beach Walk so you can sell it the best that you can,” he said. “We get to know all the activities and things to do firsthand instead of just reading about it and reporting it to our clients. We’ve dedicated ourselves to the OVB because the OVB has dedicated itself to agents.”

While Travel Partners follows the OVB’s recommendation to qualify family members on individual interests, Russo has found that many Oahu activities lend themselves to family-wide interest.

“When a family spends the day at Kualoa Ranch, for example, they can kayak to Chinaman’s Hat together,” he said.

Russo also pointed to Kualoa’s horseback riding, ATVs and variety of tours that allow a family to share the day in a single destination, but venture off to enjoy what’s most suited to individual interests.

For Alford, it always comes back to family.

“The Hawaii Island Specialists Programs for Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Big Island are applications of the Hawaiian cultural value of ohana, Hawaiian for family,” said Alford. “The concept of ohana is as much a part of our professional life as it is our personal life.”