Hawaii Island’s distinctive eco-adventures include lava boat tours. // © 2013 HTA/Tor Johnson
Talk with wholesalers about Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island, and their passion for the destination shines as bright as the tropical sun. While many of them hope to see more direct flights from the U.S. mainland, they are all demonstrating their devotion to the island with a variety of money-saving offers.
Blue Sky Tours’ marketing manager Charlotte Kerr gave us her view of the island’s distinctive appeal.
“The Big Island is a truly special place with a great deal of diversity,” said Kerr. “You can be as adventurous as you want, with activities such as night dives with manta rays, or you can just relax on one of its white-, black- or green-sand beaches. The island has something for everyone.”
Pleasant Holidays’ president Jack Richards chimed in with additional accolades.
“The island is perfect for honeymoon vacations at secluded beachfront resorts,” said Richards. “The abundance of hotel inventory and lack of compression provides greater flexibility for planning a vacation.”
“Hawaii Island is big enough that there is plenty of room for diversity,” said All About Hawaii spokesman Wil Eichorn. “The opportunity to go both lava-hunting and stargazing cannot be found in many other places in the U.S.”
MLT Vacations’ John Kennedy pegged the island as an ideal choice for emerging travel niches.
“We’re seeing an increase in group and family travel to the Big Island,” Kennedy said. “There has also been a big surge in eco-adventure opportunities that are very popular with younger travelers.”
Helicopter tours, hiking, kayaking, ziplining and visits to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Mauna Kea observatory are all trending high, according to several wholesaler reps.
Desire for More Direct Flights
While overall Hawaii bookings for 2014 are on the rise for most wholesalers, for some, the greatest challenge in selling Hawaii Island is the short supply of direct flights from the U.S. mainland.
“There is ample airlift, just not ample nonstops,” said Eichorn.
“Airlift continues to be a problem,” agreed Karen Valerio of Apple Vacations. “Interisland fares also continue to rise for clients who are considering a multiple-island vacation.”
Jonna Jackson of Classic Vacations concurred.
“Customers look at air routes and pricing. They want to know if the flight is nonstop and what it costs to fly there,” said Jackson. “If it’s not convenient, they will go somewhere else.”
Big Island Visitors Bureau executive director Ross Birch welcomed the wholesalers’ desire for more direct flights.
“It confirms that we have done our job in driving demand to Hawaii Island,” he said. “Airlift will always be an issue based on the accessibility of our island. The number of seats direct to our island reached its peak in 2012 at 630,776, a 9 percent increase over the previous year and a 30 percent increase since 2008. This year will end with an approximate 3 percent decrease in the number of seats compared to 2012. This adjustment is the airlines’ reaction to load factors, and it is the main reason wholesalers have a challenge finding seats.”
Birch anticipated that with the approach of each high season, airlines will add inventory to Hawaii Island and more nonstop seats will become available. For instance, Hawaiian Airlines is launching direct flights from Oakland, Calif., to Kona on Hawaii Island on June 14, 2014. The nonstops will run four times per week until Aug. 15.
Packages and Programs Aplenty
Buoyed by their enthusiasm for the destination, wholesalers have been pitching special offers and packages designed to build interest in Hawaii Island. Beginning Oct. 30, for example, travelers can save $100 per person on Globus and Monograms vacations that include the Big Island.
All About Hawaii currently provides a free mid-size rental car with accommodations at Islands at Mauna Lani and Mauna Lani Point. Clients booking a Royal Kona Resort package get a mid-size car and a daily breakfast, a luau and a dinner cruise for two.
Apple’s “Group-Ease” program presents discounts and added values at participating Hawaii Island hotels to attract small groups of friends and multigenerational trips.
Blue Sky Tours’ “Summer Does Not Have to End” initiative features attractive deals for travel through Dec. 20. For 2014, the company plans to focus ongoing attention on Hawaii Island with numerous promotions.
“Along with touting special offers, wholesalers must raise awareness of the one-of-a-kind delights that await visitors on Hawaii Island,” said Kerr.
“Educating travel agents and the traveling public on what the Big Island has to offer is one of the most important things needed to increase travel there. Helping agents understand the island’s unique opportunities is one of our most important priorities in selling the destination.”