HONOLULU -- The sales of Hawaii's two largest package wholesalers,
Classic Custom Vacations and Pleasant Holidays, have hoteliers here
divided over whether the changes present opportunity or uncertainty
for the market.
On Dec. 31, the AAA auto clubs of Southern California and
Northern New England took 100% control of Pleasant Holidays, and
AAA's Tim Irwin became its president.
And in January, Classic Vacation Group disclosed the sale of
Classic Custom Vacations to Expedia, a transition that should take
about 60 days.
Both wholesalers vowed to continue unbiased relationships with
travel agents even though they are owned by entities that compete
with those same agents.
On the positive side for Hawaii, hoteliers here said both Expedia
and AAA will be able to give Classic and Pleasant more and better
tools to market themselves and the islands.
At the same time, some hoteliers said they're not sure how their
relationships -- and those of travel agents -- will fare with the
new ownerships in the long run.
"From a hotel's perspective, what I'm assuming it will do is
give us more exposure," said Sally Proctor, regional director at
"From an agent's perspective, I wonder if the Classic name will
continue to stand for the service it has in the past now that it
has been combined with Expedia, which is its polar opposite," she
"You've joined Expedia, which is a do-it-yourself Web site where
you can get a cheap rate with Classic, which is a company that
prides itself on service.
"It will be very interesting to see how both Classic and
Pleasant mesh the two perspectives or if they try to act like they
are not related," Proctor said.
Kelvin Bloom, executive vice president of Aston Hotels in
Hawaii, said the fact that Expedia and Classic are polar opposites
will work to their advantage, because the combined companies will
have access to more than one distribution channel.
"Expedia caters toward a customer base that is more value
conscious, and Classic is focused on the higher-end product," said
"Each party brings several things to the table that the other
Bloom said it will be "fascinating to watch those two different
cultures integrate and develop, but I believe it will be a pretty
Proctor said she is not sure how Classic's relationship with
people in the Hawaii hotel market will turn out.
"Classic always has been a firm that prides itself on service
and always has let the hotels know if there's a problem with
service... as a result, that has made us better hoteliers, but I'm
not sure if that will continue to be the case," she said.
Other questions to consider, said Proctor, are:
•Will Expedia have a separate Web site for agents?
• How will both wholesalers deal with the perception that they
are unbiased toward agents when they are owned by competing
"There's a lot of suspicion out there if someone in both cases
is getting a better deal," said Proctor. "It makes it awkward."
Bloom said he doesn't expect to see Aston's amount of revenue
from online retailers such as Expedia increase in the future
because "our primary focus has always been and continues to be
The percentage of revenue Aston receives from online travel
agents is in the "single digits," he added.
As for Classic, Bloom said he doesn't see the wholesaler moving
away from its travel agent focus "because [its] entire business
model is based on that."
"Expedia wouldn't pay millions of dollars and then change the
fundamental model its business is based on."
Howard Dunaier, director of Hawaii wholesalers for Hyatt Resorts
and Spas of Hawaii, said he believes the sales of both Classic and
Pleasant represent nothing but good news for the market.
"My opinion is that both sales are outstanding," said
"There isn't any reason that these companies can't run
independently of their owners."
Dunaier said that in Pleasant's case, "They can't survive just
off business from AAA, so their commitment to other agencies will
be even stronger in order to prove they are not playing favorites
He also said there are enough major players in the Hawaii market
besides Classic and Pleasant to keep the playing field level.
Rodahl Leong-Lyons, director of sales at the Hyatt Regency
Waikiki, said she sees no changes in store at Pleasant.
"I absolutely trust them," said Leong-Lyons.
"They are lifetime business partners, and I don't think
[Pleasant founder] Ed Hogan would have sold the company if he knew
AAA was going to operate it differently.
However, she said she didn't know what to make of the
"What's different is that Classic only deals with travel agents,
and Expedia deals mostly with consumers and cuts out the travel
"For us, the only thing that might change with Classic is how we
do our cooperative marketing with them, but what we can't control
is what the agents are thinking about this whole move and whether
they will keep buying through Classic."
Leong-Lyons said those in the Hawaii hotel industry are waiting
to see what Expedia's long-term plans are and whether they plan to
buy more wholesalers.
"But Classic is not telling us anything," said Leong-Lyons.
"Pleasant is always giving us updates, but we haven't heard
anything from Classic other than what is in the press."