On the heels of record-breaking arrivals and spending figures in 2012, Hawaii's tourism industry cashed in on unprecedented momentum during the first quarter of this year, setting new all-time highs and raising expectations for yet another booming peak summer travel season.
Through March, the Aloha State welcomed more than 2.1 million visitors, up 7% year over year, who spent $3.9 billion, a 7.6% increase from Q1 2012 and a new first-quarter record for the destination, according to the latest Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) figures.
And even with some of the recently announced cutbacks in airlift -- United, Alaska, Hawaiian, and Allegiant have all said they plan to reduce seats to the Islands beginning later this fall -- many tourism officials remain bullish on the approaching peak summer travel period for the state.
Given the continuing strong demand for the destination, carefully qualifying clients and sending them to the correct island appears to be a crucial component of selling vacations to the Aloha State this summer, especially if your customer's idyllic Hawaii getaway doesn't involve a raucous resort experience and crowded beaches.
For Kathy Beckman, a senior travel consultant working for Segale Travel Service in Stockton, Calif., the Big Island of Hawaii is frequently a good fit for clients with a lot of experience traveling in the Islands, but it can also provide a tranquil alternative.
"We often send people to the Big Island after they've done the other islands and would like to see something different," she said. "Particularly if they want a little quieter experience."
Home to terrific resorts, a diverse collection of landscapes and climate zones, not to mention a wide variety of appealing activities, Hawaii Island is still often overlooked by travelers and agents unfamiliar with the destination, which makes it much less busy in summer months than some of the state's better-known locales.
According to Beckman, however, the addition of nonstop service in recent years from the U.S. West Coast to Kona has helped improve her Big Island sales.
"Alaska Airlines, for example, now has nonstop flights from both Oakland and San Jose to Kona," she explained. "And that's made it much more appealing to people from the Northern California area."
Beckman has also enjoyed success selling stays for both families and couples at Classic Resorts' Mauna Lani Point Villas, an oceanfront collection of townhome-style condos 20 miles north of the Kona Airport with full kitchens, in-unit laundry facilities and private lanais.
"Because the condos are only two stories, you don't have the high-rise feeling you get at some resorts, and they're very homey," she said. "The place can actually be full, and yet you still feel very private, and there's not a lot of noise or the hustle and bustle you get from a regular resort."
Kauai is another terrific option for travelers intent on visiting Hawaii in the summer but looking to avoid the busy congestion found elsewhere in the state, and according to Hannah Cote, a Hawaii specialist working for Legacy Travel near Dallas, the Garden Isle is an excellent place for adventure.
"Kauai is an active island -- very, very active," she said. "It's definitely a good fit for clients who really want to go out and do things on their vacation. You can certainly spend your day lying around on Kauai if you want, but then you're missing out on so much."
Home to a range of zipline courses, river and ocean kayaking options, hiking, horseback riding, snorkeling, movie tours and even a company that sends tubers floating down an old sugar plantation irrigation ditch, Kauai provides visitors an array of outdoor excursions, but there are also plenty of serene properties fronting jaw-dropping vistas where travelers can simply relax.
"If they have the budget for it, the St. Regis Princeville is as nice and secluded and as quiet as you can get," Cote said. "There are no resorts north of you, and then right to south is the Westin Princeville, which is great for families."
When selling Kauai, however, it's important to be sure clients aren't also looking to spend evenings out on the town.
"There just isn't any nightlife on Kauai," said Paula Quon, the owner of Supreme Travel in San Francisco. "I sent my niece, who was under 30, to Kauai after she got married, and she hated that lack of nightlife, but she loved Oahu, so you really have to think about your clients."
Although travelers can certainly find late-evening fun at several venues on Maui, it's probably best to sell the Valley Isle as a mixture of a little of the urban energy Oahu is better known for along with the tranquility and scenic beauty that are so prevalent on the Big Island and Kauai.
And for Terrah Rominger, another Hawaii specialist at Legacy Travel, the popular drive along Maui's remote road to Hana isn't as off-the-beaten-path as it used to be.
"The road to Hana has become so trendy now," she said. "And honestly, I think the drive up to the hill country [along the slopes of Haleakala] is even better. Plus it doesn't take all day, and there's a winery up there for wine tasting and a lavender farm, which is a terrific place to stop for lunch, so I strongly suggest that my clients visit the hill country when they go to Maui."
Travelers looking to escape the Valley Isle's summer crowds should check out the Honua Kai Resort & Spa, located north of Black Rock and fronting the calmer end of Kaanapali beach.
"It was very quiet," said Cote, who honeymooned at the property. "I loved it, [and] they're condo units, so they have a full-size kitchen, a washer and dryer, and there was a great pool system with a little waterslide area for kids."
Oahu fans looking for accommodations outside the summertime crush of Waikiki should definitely look into properties at the Ko Olina Resort on the island's west coast.
"Ko Olina is absolutely lovely," said Paula Simpson Takamori, the owner of Oahu-based Travel to Paradise. "It's a wonderful place to go, and even if you're not staying there you can spend time in the lagoons. They're all open to the public."
Just south of the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa and Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, the Ko Olina Beach Villas Resort is a luxury condo property providing a quieter backdrop than its larger neighbors, but it's still squarely situated in Ko Olina's fantastic Neighbor Island atmosphere.
And, of course, there's no arguing that Waikiki is the Aloha State's urban playground, attracting millions of visitors each year with its towering hotels, plentiful shopping, first-rate restaurants and nightlife. Simpson sells Waikiki stays to many of her clients annually, especially those craving the destination's uniquely charged attractions, but she also encourages folks to travel outside the destination to see Oahu's often-missed beauty.
"People just need to get in a car and drive and do stuff all around the island," she said. "Get a picnic lunch and go to Waimanalo or Kailua, where there's lots more room at the beach and kids can play. The island is so pretty once you get out of Waikiki, but I'm afraid that people who come and don't rent a car and just stay in Waikiki never get the sense of what we really have here."