Hawaii Beckons Annual Confab

HONOLULU “This will be the one by which all others ... are measured,” asserted Tony Vericella of the ASTA World Travel Congress, which returns to Honolulu for the first time in 20 years.

By: Jerry Chandler

HONOLULU “This will be the one by which all others ... are measured,” asserted Tony Vericella.

“This” is ASTA’s 2002 World Travel Congress. And the organization Vericella heads the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau stands to benefit greatly from the descent on paradise of 5,000-plus travel agents Nov. 3-8.

Calling agents a group of professionals “who absolutely influence travel decisions,” the president and CEO of the HVCB said they’ve been “the lifeblood of Hawaii. They’ve helped catapult Hawaii to prominence for quite a few decades.”

It’s been two decades 1981 to be precise since ASTA held a World Travel Congress in Hawaii. The 26,000-member organization plans its congresses some three years in advance.

Why was Honolulu chosen to be the 2002 gathering place?

“It was based on the fact that they had one of the nicest, newest convention centers,” said Susan Tanzman, chair of the 2002 conclave and owner of Martin’s Travel and Tours in West Los Angeles.

Sept. 11 was also a factor. Today, clients “want to stay close to home,” Tanzman said. “They want to go where they feel safe. [They] want to reconnect with family. What better place than Hawaii?”

ASTA’s 2002 World Travel Congress has three goals: to heighten agents’ ability to be competitive, open up new sales arenas and showcase as never before a home-grown destination Hawaii.

ASTA 2002 won’t be a warmed-over version of past World Travel Congresses.

Tanzman said there are unexplored revenue avenues out there rendered all the more receptive, ironically, by the slide in corporate earnings.

“We’ve left the incentive market to other people,” she said. What ASTA is finding nowadays is that “a lot of companies don’t want to spend money for internal meeting planning, internal incentives.”

Meetings still happen, and salespeople have to be incentivized. That means new opportunities for agents. A seminar will address the issue.

ABCs of Success

An issue that suffuses travel shops these days is stress. You either cope with it or crumble. Linda Blakely, Ph.D., will detail how to do the former in her seminar, Fried ... Frenzied ... Frazzled. The ABCs of Success and Travel Management.

A good place to start de-stressing is the 2002 World Travel Congress itself. Attendees can kick back and gain client-winning insight at the same time.

“Anyone who comes here will become a Hawaii specialist,” Tanzman said. The first 1,500 enrollees get a complimentary one-day neighbor island experience.

The Congress, of course, is not free. But Tanzman said it’s not out of reach either.

“There’s no reason a travel agent will say, ‘I can’t afford to go to World Congress.’ ”

Suppliers and boosters have anted up more than $2 million in discounts reductions that will allow the average agent to attend for about $800 per week.

Aside from air, agents will spend some of their money rediscovering a remarkably revitalized Waikiki. Over the past few years, the private and public sectors have plowed some $750 million into Oahu’s fabled confluence of sand and surf. The beachfront is better. The parks are better. The promenades are better. Waikiki begs to be walked.

You can’t walk to the neighbor islands. But via ASTA’s Islands of Aloha program, agents can fly there courtesy of Aloha and Hawaiian airlines. The Big Island, the garden island of Kauai, the friendly island of Molokai, the pineapple island of Lanai and, of course, the Valley Isle of Maui (a tip: try to stop by the planet’s only pineapple winery for a cool carafe) are short hops from Honolulu.

Before agents return to the mainland, Vericella and crew hope they’ll understand why the average stay in the islands is nine to 10 days.

“That’s quite phenomenal,” Vericella said. “We have bucked the trend.” n