If you’re working in the Canadian travel industry and doing business in the Hawaii market there is a very good chance you’ve heard the name Elvi Cal.
Often referred to as ‘Mr. Hawaii’, currently Cal holds the position of Vice-President of Product Development for Travel Brands. Starting young in the travel industry, his experience spans upwards of 30 years and for most of that time he’s worked as a product buyer for destinations all over the world – but early on in his career it was Hawaii’s Aloha spirit that captured his heart.
For this interview Cal sat down with Travelweek to discuss some of what he’s learned about the Hawaii market over the years as well as current travel trends. He also offers agents advice on how to sell the destination while the dollar is down.
Elvi Cal’s career in the travel industry began when he was the ripe old age of 13: “I started at a travel agency for a [school] project in grade 8 and then started a summer job,” he said. “From there I worked my way through high school and university and then became manager of a branch. Then I was offered a job on the wholesale side.”
Now Cal has been with the organization currently known as TravelBrands through multiple buyouts, with his focus mainly on product buying. He’s been a product buyer for Hawaii for 22 years.
“It’s such a great destination to be in and to buy for,” said Cal. “I love the different islands, the Aloha spirit and the genuine attitude of the people there. In Hawaii, they sell the destination first and then the product and at the end of the day it’s the experience you get when you’re in Hawaii, more than hotel and beach.”
Cal is a believer in the way that HTA and HVCB market their destination. With a tagline like ‘Let Hawaii happen’, it’s clear to him (and to most Hawaii visitors) that its islands offer much more than may be available through all-inclusive product. That being said Cal is all too aware that trying to sell Hawaii to clients who are used to an all-inclusive model can be a challenge, especially with a low Canadian dollar.
“It’s very hard to convince someone who wants an all-inclusive to go to Hawaii. It’s [also] 40% more expensive [to visit Hawaii] than it was a year and a half ago.” But Cal also ascertains that “there is still value to be had in Hawaii.”
With a dollar that’s fluctuated a lot through the years many travel agents and Canadian visitors have figured out how to make Hawaii work when the dollar is down. It’s no secret to Hawaiians and Canadians alike that there are many Canadian visitors who love the condo product available in the Aloha State.
“Canadians look for value,” said Cal. “Many Canadians are looking for this value because the dollar has been up and down and more down than up — so, by nature, condos have always been one of the main products that Canadians book — especially in Kihei and Kaanapali on Maui.”
Cal explains that it’s not just about more space and the option for travellers to cook for themselves with condo accommodations. Canadians are also booking longer stays, sometimes three to four weeks, so opting for a condo makes a lot more sense than staying in a hotel room. Cal also points out though that despite the demand for condo product in Hawaii, he’s noticed as of late that sales for his luxury beachfront properties are up.
“I’m getting deals in these five-star, beachfront properties, so clients are saying ‘I will book that five-star because I’m actually saving money now.’”
So what other advice does Cal have to share with travel agents about how to sell Hawaii in the current climate?
“If your clients were traditionally going to book hotel rooms for their families then look at condo properties too. It offers a different, homier experience — they can save money, there’s a range from three-star on the beach to five-star off the beach. At Holiday House we consistently negotiate specials for your clients.”
Cal also adds that agents should definitely be on the lookout for special offers.
“The hotels do recognize that business is down. WestJet has been having constant seat sales so that will add value to a package price.”
But most of all Cal suggests that when it comes to selling Hawaii, try taking the focus off the price point and instead emphasize the Hawaii experience.
“If you’re selling Hawaii as a price point, try to change that. Your clients may pay a little bit more but it’s the experience they will remember. There are things you can do in Hawaii that your clients can’t do anywhere else. That’s what they’ll remember long after what room they had. Sometimes paying a little bit more is worth it.”
And what does ‘Mr. Hawaii’ like to do when he’s visiting the Hawaiian Islands?
“My wife and I are foodies,” says Cal. “I love Hawaii’s Pan Pacific cuisine – it’s a mixture of Far East with local Hawaiian and North American flavours. There’s no place like Side Street [with locations in Honolulu and Waikiki]. It’s a Ma and Pa shop with local cuisine like Big Island spare ribs. Another favourite of mine is Sansei – there’s one at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa, one in Honolulu and one in Kapalua [with other locations in Kihei and Waikoloa]. I also love to golf and Hawaii has so many beautiful golf courses.”