Kayaking the Wailua River ranks high among Kauai visitor activities. // © 2015 Hawaii Tourism Japan
Feature image (above): The north shore’s Hanalei Lookout is one of the area’s tropical landscapes. // © 2015 Kauai Visitors Bureau
Hawaii wholesalers count themselves among Kauai’s biggest fans. They rave about the island’s virtues, from its compelling landscapes and mellow vibe to its many activities and accommodations. While pricey airfares can create booking challenges, wholesalers are cooking up ways to increase awareness of — and travel to — Kauai.
“Kauai is arguably the most beautiful place on Earth,” said Tina Iglio, senior vice president of marketing and product development for MLT Vacations. “Its small size is another big selling point because all of its offerings are within easy reach of the resort areas.”
Wholesalers especially like the fact that Kauai feels less crowded than Oahu and Maui, and its towns are laid-back and quaint.
But Kauai’s relaxed ambience can lead to the misperception that there’s nothing to do there, notes Kim Vincent, product and business development manager for the Globus Family of Brands.
“On the contrary, Kauai offers travelers a wide range of activities,” Vincent said. “The island can be an adventurer’s dream.”
Wholesalers point to ziplining as the most popular activity. Other top sellers include kayaking, helicopter tours and horseback riding.
Private outings are the fastest-growing activity at Pleasant Holidays, says Jack Richards, president of the tour operator.
“People want to experience something new in a very exclusive and personal encounter,” Richards said.
Pleasant puts together private guided Kauai tours, ranging from hiking and surfing to secluded beach excursions and sunset barbecues.
Wil Eichorn, product manager for All About Hawaii, is noticing that travel agents are increasingly booking Kauai activities ahead of time for their clients.
“Agents are more aware of the extra income that activities bring in,” Eichorn said. “Booking them in advance means clients won’t waste time planning the vacation during their vacation.”
Blue Sky Tours has launched an app to help clients plan their activities on Kauai as well as on other islands.
“With our new Activity Planner, customers can create an agenda they can edit and share,” said Levi Sanchez, travel agency engagement manager for Blue Sky Tours. “It’s a way for travelers to build lasting memories.”
Wholesalers agree that Kauai’s three major resort regions, on the south, east and north shores, make the island accessible to clients.
“We see our business spread across all areas of Kauai,” said Tim Mullen, president of Apple Vacations. “We sell a good mix of hotels vs. condos, and we are pretty evenly split between the upscale and the more modest family-centric accommodations.”
Vincent notes that some regions are popular to specific markets or at various points of the year.
“Princeville, to the north, continues to dominate the luxury market,” she said. “Poipu, in the south, is more attractive during the winter months when it can rain more often in the north.”
Kauai rental home bookings are on the upswing for Travel Impressions, which presents several alternatives to the typical resort stay.
“Our Villa Experience features options such as a romantic one-bedroom cottage and an expansive six-bedroom masterpiece,” said Jeff Clarke, president of Travel Impressions. “This has been one of our largest growth areas, as Kauai is ideal for destination weddings and social groups.”
Airfares and Value-Added Promotions
Despite all of its assets, Kauai can be a tougher sell than other Hawaiian islands due to the expense of flying there.
“The biggest challenge in selling Kauai is the cost of nonstop flights from the U.S. West Coast,” said David Bistrin, product development manager for Hawaii at Classic Vacations. “The lift seems to match demand, but fares are much higher than in years past.”
In response, Maile Brown, marketing director for Kauai Visitors Bureau, suggests traveling to the island in the non-peak seasons, as airfare could be lower in the spring and fall.
“In addition, moving the arrival and departure up or back a day can sometimes shift pricing in favor of the client,” Brown said.
Meanwhile, wholesalers are working to keep Kauai affordable with various promotions. With Classic Vacations’ Take Off to Hawaii initiative, clients staying at least five nights on Kauai get up to $500 in air credit, with higher credits for longer stays. Travelers from the U.S. West Coast receive $100 in air credit, with a triple rental car upgrade for all.
Blue Sky is partnering with Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau on a Kauai promotion, beginning October 2015, with exclusive offers for travelers and incentives for travel agents.
Wholesalers are actively educating agents and clients about Kauai. Pleasant Holidays has relevant in-house and virtual training, trade shows and online webinars. Blue Sky recently hosted a customer-care fam trip to Kauai to keep its sales representatives abreast of the destination.
“It’s a huge benefit to see Kauai firsthand to truly appreciate all it has to offer,” Blue Sky’s Sanchez said.