Selling Hawaii: Hot Family Trend Means Big Profits for Agents
by Monique Burns /

Part one of two parts.

For travel agents selling Hawaii, multigenerational travel is the new hot ticket.

Large extended families, including grandparents, parents and children, are heading to the islands in growing numbers, often booking pricey once-in-a-lifetime family reunions and milestone celebrations such as anniversaries and birthdays.

“There’s been an uptick in just the last six to eight months,” said Regina Tait of Hawaiivacation4U.com, a division of Travelcom, a TRAVELSAVERS agency based in Huntington Beach, Calif.  
 
$90,000 booking
While the outlook for travel to Hawaii for the rest of 2014 is strong overall, for agents, the biggest trend – multigenerational travel – is also potentially the most profitable.

“We’re booking 20-plus people, mostly for a week or two weeks, to Maui, to Kaanapali Beach, which has a boardwalk with shops, hotels, restaurants, so there’s plenty for everyone to do on their own during the day before getting together in the evening,” Tait said.

Susan Tanzman, owner and president of Martin’s Travel & Tours, an Ensemble affiliate in Los Angeles, recently booked a $90,000 family Christmas trip to Hawaii.

Multigenerational vacations can be quite lucrative for agents, Tanzman said, though not always – bookings vary from families who choose lower-cost condos to those who stay in suites.   

And while grandparents often foot the bill, there are challenges, she cautioned. “The adult children can be very demanding.  It can take a lot of work to make everyone happy.”

More hot markets
Travel sellers can look to other segments for growth in travel to Hawaii as well.

Honeymoons and anniversaries in Hawaii are always popular, and “destination weddings continue to be big,” said Levi Sanchez, marketing manager for Albuquerque-based Blue Sky Tours, a tour operator that sells Hawaii exclusively.

In addition to traditional pairings, “gay weddings have been legalized in the islands, and they’ve been very successful. Hawaii is such a picturesque spot for weddings,” said Sanchez. He also noted “big growth” in family reunions in Hawaii.

Travel for milestone celebrations like anniversaries, birthdays and graduations continues to grow as well, according to the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau.  

Action-packed, plus culture
Active travel is also strong for Hawaii, which offers activities such as ziplining, whale watching, kayaking, hiking and adventure tours on all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).

“So many people are asking me about hiking, even honeymooners who used to just relax on the beach,” said Tanzman. “Each island is unique for hiking. There’s hiking for every level.”

Tait said that “zip-lining is big, along with horseback-riding, catamaran sailing and paddleboarding.”

Cultural heritage tourism is big, too, from luaus, ukulele lessons and lei-making to tours of the Iolani Palace, the only royal palace in the U.S., and the USS Arizona Memorial and the newly renovated Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.   

Festivals and special events, where clients get up-close with Hawaiians, are also hot.

Airlift & specials
Getting travelers to Hawaii year-round has gotten easier, thanks to increased airlift from the mainland, including the May 2 launch of Hawaiian Airlines’ daily nonstop service between Los Angeles and Maui. (See sidebar.)

Supplier deals are helping boost travel to the islands as well.

For instance, Starwood Resorts, in conjunction with Alaska Airlines, recently announced discounts of up to 67% on stays at 10 resorts on four islands on bookings made by April 30 for travel by Dec. 22.

And Pleasant Holidays is offering up to a $500 resort credit for four-night stays in one or two-bedroom villas at the Aulani: A Disney Resort & Spa on bookings made by May 15 for travel April 23 to June 16.   

Multi-island vacations
Oahu and Maui continue to lead the islands in numbers of U.S. visitors. But with increased interisland flights, travelers can easily add a mix of islands to their vacations.

“We see a lot of multi-island vacations to Hawaii; the multi-island trend has been here for a while,” said Sanchez.

One reason for the multi-island trend, he said, is that with higher airfares, people are staying longer.

“They’ll mix Oahu, which is very vibrant, or Maui, with a more low-key island like Lanai or Molokai.”

Oahu for first-timers
First-timers tend to want Oahu and Maui, said Tait of Hawaiivacation4U.com. “They’re most like what you’d expect the Hawaiian Islands to be, with palm trees and beautiful sandy beaches.”
 
Seasoned travelers are apt to combine Kauai or the Big Island, or perhaps Maui, with a small, neighborly island like Lanai, according to Sanchez.

Tanzman cautioned against trying to do too much. “I usually put clients on one or two islands.  If you do three days here, three days there and three days there, all you’re ever doing is changing planes and renting cars.”

Big Island is popular
Right now Hawaii, the Big Island, is hot, both literally and figuratively.
 
“For the last two weeks, lava has been flowing on the Big Island from the Kilauea Volcano in Volcanoes National Park,” said Tanzman. “It’s thrilling.”

Tait is equally enamored with the Big Island. “It’s the newest, hottest destination.  With the volcano’s lava rock, it’s like you’ve landed on the moon.”
 
Best time for values
While there are peak seasons for Hawaii travel, “all year is a great value,” said Sanchez of Blue Sky Tours.  

“In fall, there are very, very good deals, and the weather stays temperate.

“I like to go in January.  It’s a bit of a shoulder season after Christmas vacation; the deals are very strong – and the whales are there,” he added.  

“High season follows the school vacations – in summer, Dec. 15 through Jan. 6, and between February and April.  Summer is also popular for honeymoons and destination weddings.”

Family reunions are big with grandparents taking their grandchildren to Hawaii during spring break and summer vacation. We’re booking 20-plus people, mostly for a week or two weeks.

Regina Tait, Hawaiivacation4U.com