Though Hawaii is known as one of the world’s greatest tropical paradises, it can still be a challenge to sell the Aloha State. Here to help with those challenges is Robyn Basso, senior director of travel industry partnerships, Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB).
Basso took some time with Travelweek to explain who Hawaii’s top travellers are, why the destination is much more than sun and sand and provide insider tips your clients will love you for.
Travelweek: Canadian agents may sometimes find it challenging to sell Hawaii over closer, more inexpensive sun destinations — especially in Eastern Canada. The flight to Hawaii is long, room rates in Hawaii have increased as of late and the Canadian dollar is currently not as strong against the U.S. What are Canadian travellers getting with a Hawaiian vacation that they can’t get anywhere else?
Basso: The true value of a Hawaii vacation is having experiences that can’t be found anywhere else. Hawaii is more than just sun, sand and surf. The people, a one-of-a-kind culture, and the spirit of Aloha combined with spectacular vistas, diverse landscapes, and unexpected adventures make the Hawaiian Islands one of the most desirable destinations in the world.
Travelweek: Another challenge Canadian agents may sometimes face is educating their clients about the features of a Hawaiian vacation as compared to the plethora of all-inclusive product available to Canadian snowbirds. What advice would you offer to agents to help them differentiate the product and sell more Hawaii?
Basso: With six islands and an incredible variety of resorts, activities, and experiences to choose from, no two itineraries will be the same. That’s what’s great about a Hawaii vacation. Our visitors leave feeling like they’ve had an experience that no one else can match. It’s unique, it’s personal, it’s memorable. My advice for agents would be to get to know the distinct brand identities of the six Hawaiian Islands – Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui and Hawaii Island – and the unique activities and experiences that each offers so you can pair your clients with the island(s) that best fits their interests.
Hawaii has a very high visitor satisfaction rating. If you can give your client a great first impression, the chances of them returning are high. Our research shows that 77% of first-time visitors to Hawaii are very or somewhat likely to return for another visit within five years. Hawaii’s products and experiences are constantly evolving and being refreshed, so I encourage agents to keep up with what’s new. We issue a monthly newsletter to inform agents of new developments in the Hawaiian Islands.
Travelweek: HVCB offers a very comprehensive online agent education program that agents can now access through Travelweek’s Learning Centre. Could you give a brief description of the program? How will it help agents increase their business?
Basso: We just launched a new and improved travel agent online resource centre (agents.gohawaii.com), which features more compelling, in-depth knowledge to help agents increase their Hawaii bookings. The resource centre includes our updated Hawaii Destination Specialist training program and a suite of interactive sales and marketing tools.
For the first time, the new official Hawaii Destination Specialist Program can be downloaded and accessed via tablet or smartphone. An enhanced version of the previous Ke Kula o Hawaii online certification course, the refreshed and streamlined program consists of two certifications segmented into easily managed modules including valuable insider tips, audio narration and a resume tool, making the program simpler to use and more rewarding to study. Graduates of the first two courses, Introduction to Hawaii and Selling the Hawaiian Islands, will earn the Hawaii Destination Specialist designation and enjoy exclusive benefits including special webinars, a one-year subscription to HAWAII Magazine, and more. The second phase of the program, launching shortly, will feature four separate certifications covering the distinct brand appeal of Oahu, Maui Nui, Kauai, and Hawaii Island, and come with individual Island Specialist designations upon completion. Finally, graduates of all six courses are deemed a Hawaii Destination Expert and qualify for additional benefits, including access to self-guided familiarization trips.
Travelweek: HVCB’s Mahalo Month offers immense opportunity for agents to get know Hawaii’s islands better. Can you tell us a bit more about this two-month-long promotion tailor-made for the travel agent community?
Basso: This year Mahalo Month will be held from April 1 – May 31. It’s the Hawaiian Islands’ way of showing appreciation to all the hard working travel professionals who help sell and promote our destination. Each year, industry partners statewide offer special rates to experience Hawaii’s beauty, unique culture and the aloha spirit first-hand. To view all the great offers, visit MahaloMonth.com.
Travelweek: Beyond Mahalo Month and HVCB’s education program, can you offer other suggestions for agents new to Hawaii who are looking to break into the market?
Basso: I would encourage agents to look at their current customer base for potential Hawaii clients. Hawaii’s top traveller types are romance/destination weddings, outdoor recreation, golf, and culture and arts. Hawaii has a distinct appeal to each of these travellers. If you have these types of clients that have not yet travelled to Hawaii, it is the perfect opportunity to recommend a Hawaiian Islands Vacation. Share your passion and knowledge of Hawaii by holding a Hawaii Night to educate potential clients on what Hawaii has to offer. Be active in community groups and partner with other local businesses that cater to these markets. Use testimonials of satisfied clients to showcase your expertise and encourage referrals. You can also market special events held in Hawaii by using HVCB’s calendar of events feature. Find out when key festivals and events are happening and create a package or a group departure that appeals to a specific interest (sporting events, cultural festivals, concerts, etc.). Utilize the sales and marketing tools on the HVCB new travel agent portal at agents.gohawaii.com including flyer templates, posters, and downloadable images to communicate the destination and your agency message.
Travelweek: Hawaii’s islands offer a vast array of grand restaurants, big brand shopping and iconic hotels but there are also many local hotspots to be found that many Canadian agents may not be aware of. Can you name a few of your favourite local eateries and/or attractions?
Basso: You will always increase your credibility by sharing some ‘insider tips’ and off the beaten path recommendations your clients cannot easily find online or in a product brochure. Those hidden gems are some of the most memorable experiences your clients will have. A few of my favourites are Bogart’s on Oahu, a fantastic breakfast spot just steps away from Leahi (Diamondhead) that is famous for their delicious acai bowls. Hawaii Island offers some of the most amazing fresh fish and great service at Da Poke Shack. You can sample and pick from a variety of the freshest fish and enjoy on the spot or take it to go. Maui offers the perfect oceanfront spot in Lahaina open for breakfast, lunch and dinner at Aloha Mixed Plate. It offers gorgeous views and fantastic food at reasonable prices. My favorites are some of the breakfast items such as the Kalua pig hash and eggs and the Hawaiian Sweet Break French Toast. For a unique and off the beaten path experience on Kauai, check out the Friday Night Art Crawl in Hanapepe, a small town on the island’s West Side. Explore the art galleries when painters, sculptors, and craftsman open the doors to their galleries. This provides the opportunity to interact with local artisans and bring back a unique piece made on Kauai.