ost hotels, attractions, activity
outfitters, car rental firms, shops and restaurants these days have
Web sites that can be quickly and easily pulled up at any time of
But apparently many travel agents aren't taking advantage of the
Internet as an information source.
In fact, some admit they're Web-phobic.
"Many agents still ask us for information via mail and fax
[when] with the Web they can access what they need immediately,"
said Krislynne Markey Patterson, manager of Travel Trade
Development, North America, for the Hawaii Visitors &
Convention Bureau (HVCB).
Every form and schedule is available on the HVCB's www.gohawaii.com Web
site, Patterson said.
Having visited the islands numerous times, some agents said they
don't feel the Web is necessary; they sell Hawaii based on personal
experiences, which, they point out, is better than using a
second-hand source. Others said they rely on their preferred
wholesalers to provide them with information.
One agency executive, who declined to be identified, said her
company discourages agents from surfing the Web during the
"There's no time for that," she said. "The bottom line is a
priority; and we want our agents on the phone booking business, not
spending hours checking out Web sites."
That said, she added, "Most of our clients go on line themselves
to research hotels, activities, transportation, etc., then call us
to make the reservations."
Do it yourself
Hawaii Visitor Center, based in Denver, has capitalized on that
concept by creating its own Web site, at www.hawaiivisitorcenter.com, that enables browsers to
customize their island vacation and receive an instant price
To assist users in the planning process, the site touts "the
best available fares from all the major airlines, rates for more
than 500 hotel/condo properties and the best car rental and
Once travelers make their choices, they're asked to call the
firm's toll-free number to talk to an agent who can answer their
questions and book the getaway.
The site was launched in 1996, when Internet use was just taking
"Back then," said Steve Nicol, the company's founder and
president, "20% of our clients did their research on line, while
80% preferred to call us and have brochures mailed to them.
"Today, 90% of our clients use our Web site. Because of that, we
no longer print and mail brochures. Our brochure is now available
on line, and clients can print as much or as little of it as they
One woman visited the site and requested pricing for 300
different vacation scenarios, which turned out to be beneficial for
the agency and the client, Nicol said.
"An agent wasn't tied up on the phone for a long period of time,
and the customer was able to do all her research in the comfort of
her own home."
Keep it current
Although Hawaii Visitor Center's site is attractive and easy to
use, more attention needs to be paid to accuracy.
For example, click on Chinese in the Oahu restaurant section and
you'll see two options: Kahala Mandarin Oriental, which actually is
a luxury hotel, not a restaurant, and Little Hong Kong, which
serves precooked food cafeteria-style. There are far better
alternatives in Honolulu.
One of the Italian suggestions, Salerno, closed several years
ago. And although it's a worthy recommendation, the listing for the
lone restaurant in the French category, Le Guignol, contains an old
address and phone number.
On the plus side, the site's hotel section provides details on
properties statewide, right down to the year they were built, the
number of elevators and distance from the airport.
Headquartered in Honolulu, Panda Travel also is tapping the
Web's fullest potential.
"We know that the Internet is the way of the future for travel
bookings, and, as a seller of discount travel, we want to be part
of that future," said Anna Doell, Panda's senior executive
The company has an Internet department with five full-time
agents handling Web bookings, along with a graphics department that
focuses on updating the site, Doell said.
By clicking an option on www.pandaonline.com called Hawaiian Hottrips,
travelers can make prepaid air, hotel and car arrangements in the
"Confirmation is immediate," said Doell, "and passengers don't
need to contact our Internet department unless they have questions
or are trying to do something out of the ordinary."
Besides the FIT site, Panda maintains www.pantours.net,
designated solely for the use of travel agencies.
The password-controlled site pays agents 17% commission on
Hawaiian Hottrips packages and 10% on inbound packages.
An air-only link spotlighting bulk rates soon will be added to
the site. Agencies wishing to access www.pantours.net can
obtain a password from Panda by providing a copy of their license
Doell said she believes today's traveler is definitely Web-savvy
and "this will continue to be the case as the younger generation
becomes of age and starts to make their own vacation plans."
Hawaii Visitor Center's Nicol concurs. "Sept. 11 had a
devastating effect on the travel industry. That, coupled with the
airline commission cuts, has forced a lot of agencies out of
"As more and more agencies close or merge, the number of people
using the Web for travel is going to grow exponentially. People are
accepting the fact that the Internet is the way travel is being
Meanwhile, the major wholesalers have installed booking engines
that enable agencies to make online reservations as opposed to
calling toll-free numbers and being placed on hold, he said.
"These wholesalers still rely on travel agents as their
distribution channel," Nicol said. "However, they are turning to
the Web to make their products more accessible. It is far more
cost-effective for wholesalers to sell their products via the Web
than to use the traditional GDSs or voice lines."
In his opinion, the writing is on the wall: "I believe that
travel agencies that do not embrace the Web are doomed to