Written By: Tom Ogg
Ahhhh, Hawaii. Hawaii is one of those places that everyone can’t get enough of. Selling Hawaii as a travel agent has many benefits and can also be quite financially rewarding. Hawaii enjoys an extremely high visitor satisfaction rating and well more than half of all first time visitors (over 75% from the west coast) intend on returning again for another vacation.
The best thing about Hawaii from a travel professional’s perspective is that Hawaii is profitable to sell. By becoming a Hawaii specialist you can expect excellent commissions serving a never ending flow of new and returning Hawaii clients. Tour companies, hotels and resorts and local destination management companies all pay handsome commissions to travel professionals.
Arranging group travel to Hawaii is also an excellent opportunity if you have a special niche that can attract affinity groups that want to travel with others that share the niche. And, there is no more friendly destination for group travel than Hawaii. Its entire visitor heritage was based on group travel throughout the islands. Here are some things to consider when selling Hawaii’s unique value proposition.
The Aloha Culture: Hawaiians are friendly, warm and talented in ways that are unique to Hawaii alone. Visitors that engage the local culture are mesmerized by its warmth and hospitality and quickly feel at home and relaxed. In fact, it is the expression of the Aloha spirit in Hawaii’s music, dance, dining and overall enjoyment of life that is what makes Hawaii so special and downright addictive. It doesn’t matter how well traveled someone is they are going to love Hawaii.
Hawaii is Safe: While Hawaii’s diversity is fun and exciting, Hawaii is part of the United States and everything that means. Visitors can enjoy different cultures without ever leaving the good old USA. This is very important to many travelers who are not certain that they want to expose themselves to any potential problems that traveling abroad may introduce. Everyone speaks english and all of the visitor’s favorite brands are available should that be their choice. Never forget to remind clients that Hawaii is one of the safest destinations that they can choose.
Hawaii is Great for Multi-generational Travel: Hawaii’s hotels, resorts and condominiums cater to family travel and there is something to do for everyone. Many of Hawaii’s resorts have fantastic swimming pools with water slides, flowing rivers, suspension bridges, grottos and many more features. Children’s activities are always available and there seems to be unlimited sightseeing attractions and activities on every island.
Hawaii is Paradise for Certain Niches: If you specialize in a certain niche, Hawaii may have a ton of options for you. Here are some niches that were made for Hawaii: Sport fishing, surfing, SCUBA diving, destination weddings, hiking, body boarding, honeymoons, stand up paddling, photography, snorkeling, botanical and tropical gardens, Polynesian and Pacific cultural tours, foodies, accessible travel, LGBTQ travel, clothing optional tours, cooking, para gliding, wind surfing, kite boarding, tropical beaches and many, many more.
I have been fortunate to have had a relationship with Hawaii since 1963 when I took my first trip to surf. Fresh out of high school, I fell in love with Hawaii and travel in general. I worked for Aloha Airlines in various sales positions and escorted hundreds of travel agent familiarization trips tours over a 12-year period. I met Joanie on a fam trip and we subsequently married in Hawaii and started a wholesale Hawaii tour company selling FITs through agents in the western United States. We still visit Hawaii a couple times a year to surf and relax. In fact, we just renewed our wedding vows at the Kahala Hotel & Resort just a couple of years ago. Realizing that many agents will never gain the kind of intimacy with Hawaii that we have had the good fortune to have experienced this article will deal with some of the basics of selling Hawaii.
I am going to start by giving some history of tourism in the State of Hawaii. It is important to understand what happened and why it happened. Hawaii became a state in August of 1959… UAL was flying DC8s to Hawaii with full service and low fares and tourism exploded to Hawaii. Since this was before airline deregulation there were only 3 fares from the mainland to Hawaii; coach, first class and the GV-40 group fare. Everyone that visited Hawaii came in groups of at least 40 passengers. This is important because it affected the evolution of tourism in Hawaii.
Initially tourism focused on Waikiki Beach. Hotel occupancy rates on Oahu were 100%, but neighbor island occupancy was dismal. So the hotel companies and motor coach companies, along with the transpacific airlines subsidized what was known then as the “Common Fare”
One could fly to the neighbor islands for only $5 per island, The common fare had several restrictions that were created for the benefit of the motor coach companies. One had to visit Kauai first, then Maui. Once they arrived in Maui they had crossed the “Maui Fence” and then had to return to the mainland from Hilo. Only no one flew to Hilo from Maui, so they had to fly into Kona and then cross the island in a motor coach to Hilo to catch their flight home.
This was negotiated by a guy named Slim Holt who owned the Grey line franchise on the Big Island. Neighbor island occupancy exploded overnight. 4-island escorted tours were not only inexpensive, they were a popular way to see the islands. Virtually all visitors traveled in escorted group tours. This caused several things to happen to Hawaii’s infrastructure, which still affect selling Hawaii today. Hotels and resorts were built to accommodate group motor coach tours in locations that were convenient for sightseeing, not for FIT visitors that wanted other amenities.
The Hilo Airport was built into an International airport with numerous gates and jetways. Of course, when the common fare went away, so did the traffic. Now ITO is a ghost town, other than a few inter island flight arrivals and departures. Around 1978 Hawaiians who could no longer afford to live in their homes revolted and shut down construction of any further tourist development.
The Hawaiian Islands are in the center of the Pacific Ocean. The Tradewinds blow from the northeast towards the southwest. Each island has a windward side and a leeward side. Having a volcanic orgin, each island has one or more mountain masses in their center.
Generally, the windward side of the island has extensive rainfall because the on-shore winds carry the rain clouds in with it that pile up against the mountain mass and stop there. Side-shore winds cause the ocean to be choppy and can create currents. They also make the water appear to be dirty. Side-shore winds can be intense if they are compressed after coming around the mountain mass. The side-shore wind sides of the island may also incur heavy rainfall as rain clouds are carried around the mountain mass and follow the winds along the shoreline. Off-shore winds are usually hot and dry and flatten the ocean out making crystal clear water that is enjoyable to swim and snorkel in. Off-shore winds occur on the leeward side of each island. The leeward side of each island is usually dry and experiences little rain as it is blocked from the rain clouds by the mountain mass.
When people think of Hawaii they think of crystal clear water they can snorkel in. Leeward side with off-shore winds. Each island has NE to SW trade winds normally. They are all the same. So let’s look at each individual island.
Kauai (cow-eye): The main mountain mass on Kauai is called Mt. Waialeale (why-alley-alley) and is home to the Ali Kai swamp — the wettest spot on the planet Earth. The runoff from the Ali kai Swamp has created the Waimea Canyon also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The windward side of the island is verdant from heavy rainfall and is where Hanalei, Princeville and the Na Pali coast are located. Surfers and golfers love this area. The towns of Kapaa (Ka -pa-ah) and the Coconut Coast are located on the part of the island that receives side shore winds and quite a bit of rain that escapes from the windward side. The hotels and condominiums located here were built during the motor coach era and do not offer good beaches or swimming, but are a great base for sightseeing Kauai.
Nawiliwili (Na-willy-willy) and Poipu (Poi-poo) Beach are located on the leeward side of the island and have exceptional beaches for swimming, snorkeling and surfing. They enjoy excellent weather with ample sunshine and crystal blue waters. This is the area to put clients interested in beach activities on Kauai. The little island of Niihau (Knee-ee-how) is a private island off the west coast of Kauai that is inhabited by about 150 100% Hawaiians. They have no electricity and live the way Hawaiians have for centuries.
Oahu (Oh-ah-who): The main mountain mass on the island of Oahu is the Koolau (Ko-oh-lau) range, which runs the entire length of the island. If you look at a map of Oahu you see that a section of the north shore (from Kohuku (Ko-who-ku) to Haleiwa (Hall-ee-eve-ah) runs from the NW to the SW. The NE winds come off the Pacific and pile up agains the Koolau Mountains and then releases just above Sunset Beach. This is the famed North Shore Surfing mecca where swell, wind and structure come together create perfect surfing conditions. The windward side of Oahu is verdant and green and the leeward side warm and sunny. The most famous tourist area on Oahu is Waikiki (Why-key-key) Beach.
Waikiki Beach is the most prominent tourist destinations and there is a never ending amount of things to do. If this is your clients first visit to Hawaii they should always start in Waikiki just to get into the Aloha spirit. Waikiki has wonderful beaches, unlimited ocean activities surfing, diving, snorkeling, fishing, outrigger canoe paddling and SUPing and much more. There are hundreds of excellent restaurants offering diverse cuisine and lots of entertainment. Everyone loves Waikiki.
Maui (Mau-ee) County Maui County consists of several islands. Maui is the main island for visitors, but both Molokai (Mo-lo-kai) and Lanai (Lan-eye) offer some visitor accommodations. Molokai is somewhat rustic while Lanai boasts a Four Seasons luxury resort.
The Island of Maui has two separate mountain masses, the West Maui Mountains and Haleakala (Ha-lee-a-ka-la). The windward side of the island is where Kahului (Ka-who-lou-ee) is located and the properties there date back to the group travel days.
Kaanapali (ka-an-a-pa-lee) Beach is located in the lee of the West Maui Mountains and offers fantastic tourist facilities. Great properties, a wold class beach with every water sport imaginable, numerous restaurants and tons of things to see and do. Lahaina (La-high-na) Town is full of tourist shopping and restaurants to boot. The area from Kaanapali Beach north to Honolua (Hon-oh-loo-ah) Bay is chock full of condos and resorts and is great for those not wanting to be in the Kaanapali area’s bustling activity. Honolua Bay is one of the best winter surfing spots in all of Hawaii.
Between the West Maui Mountains and Haleakala is a valley that acts as a wind tunnel on Maui. Kahului is on the windward side and Maalaea (Ma-ah-la-eh-ah) is on the leeward side. While Maalaea Harbor is interesting and there is excellent summer surf at the harbor entrance, the wind blows strongly offshore here nearly every single day. For this reason properties in Maalaea and the western portion of Kihei (Key-hay) are not desirable because of the side shore winds in the afternoon.
Once one enters Wailea (Why-lay-ah) the winds become less of a problem and the resorts there also have extensive swimming pools. Makena (Mah-ken-ah) Beach is in the lee of Haleakala and enjoys warm offshore winds as does the rest of the coast from there. Worth noting is the area known as Big Beach. This is an excellent beach for those that want to get away from the crowds. Little Beach just over the lava finger to the right is a clothing optional beach if you have clients looking for that option.
Wind surfers are very familiar with Hookipa (Who-oo-key-pa) .Beach Park on the Hana Highway just past the village of Paia (Pa-ee-ah) as being one of the best wind surfing spots in the world. Large surf, stiff onshore winds and lots of room make this beach the favorite for professionals.
Hawaii, The Big Island: Hawaii is the youngest and largest island of the Hawaiian chain. Its north side consists of two extinct volcanoes, Kohala (Ko-ha-la) and Mauna Kea (Mau-na Kay-ah) each of which is 1-million years old. Kohala is a deeply eroded ridge line that barely resembles a volcano. Mauna Kea (Mau-nah Kay-ah), at 13,796 feet, last erupted some 3,000 years ago. There are also three active volcanoes on the island: Mauna Loa (Mau-na-low-a) (900,000 years old), Hualalai (Who-ah-la-lie) on the Kona Coast (750,000 years old), and Kilauea (kill-ah-way-ah) (100,000 years old). Hualalai last erupted in 1801. Mauna Loa erupts about twice each decade. Kilauea is almost constantly erupting and enlarging the island. Currently Kilauea’s lava flows were responsible for destroying over six hundred homes in the south east corner of the Big Island. Kilauea is active right now and is threatening more homes in the leilani (Lay-Lah-nee) Estates subdivision in the Puna (Poo-na) District east of Hilo (He-low). While active, the lava flows have no effect on the areas that visitors enjoy and are isolated in a mostly vacant area of the east coast of the Big Island.
So here are the areas that are in the lee of volcanoes on the Big Island. The coast from Mauna Kea Beach Hotel to Kona Village Resort on the Kohala Coast are in the lee of the Kohala volcano and the Kailua. Kona (Ko-na) coast is in the lee of Hualalai and the Kau district (a desert for the most part) is in the lee of Mauna Loa. This includes all of Waikoloa (Why-ko-low-ah).
While the windward side of Hawaii is huge the only tourist area is the city of Hilo (He-low). Hilo has several tourist oriented properties that were built during the “common fare” period to house cross-island tourists departing for the mainland from Hilo which was required by the common fare rules. Today, Hilo can be used as a stopover for a circle island drive tour after visiting Volcano National Park, which is about 20 miles from Hilo. All of the Hilo properties with the exception of the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel are substandard properties. And, many of the Kailua (Kai-lew-ah) and Keahou (Kay-ah-hoe) properties are also substandard.
Understanding Hawaii’s geographical influence on the various areas of Hawaii’s islands is important in making sure that you put your clients in areas that match their expectations. And, understanding your client’s expectations is critical to making sure that they visit the right island(s) that match their desires. Each island has its own unique personality and in future issues of Travel Professional NEWS, we will explore them individually. and try to capture their personalities by using high quality photographs.
Have fun selling Hawaii!