NEW YORK -- The Web is playing a growing role in Hawaii hotels'
efforts to help agents fill their rooms.
And, because tour operators and wholesalers are the primary
partners travel agencies work with in selling Hawaii, many hotel
Web sites carry substantial information about their products and
deals available through them.
"We find that the most effective means of communicating to
travel agents is through our wholesale partners and their extensive
sales network and preferred agency relationships," said William
Koo, assistant vice president of eCommerce for Aston Hotels &
Aston's most recent agent focus group research found that travel
agents rank wholesalers as their No. 1 and most reliable source of
information. So when Aston has deals to offer, it offers them
through their wholesalers first, the hotel said.
Generally speaking, Hawaii hotels have consumer Web sites that
are full of information about their hotels and Hawaii.
Travel agents can educate themselves on the consumer side of a
site -- and they also can use some aspects of these sites as sales
tools. One example: sending electronic postcards from a site to
clients in order to interest them in a Hawaii trip or to illustrate
the resort at which an agent may have already booked a client.
Still, hotels are sensitive to the fact that some agents are
wary of the Web and the fact that it can be a distribution channel
that competes with them.
An example of this awareness is Marriott's care to make sure
that its travel agency and tour operator partners always have the
best price available.
"Our partners have to feel confident that they are not undercut
by us or another third-party site," said Paul Toner, Marriott's
area director of marketing, Pacific Islands.
Many Hawaiian hotel sites have agent sections aimed at educating
agents and helping them sell. Starwood Hotels and Resorts, for
example, has an agent-only section to which agents log on using
their IATA number.
It uses this site for agent promotions and to display its
information about wholesale partners and discount rates for agents
to use for personal travel.
The chain is rolling out its Starwood Travel Agent Educational
Program this month. It includes an online educational component
available through Travel Weekly and Travel Counselor magazine.
Through its Aloha Amenity program, Starwood provides an online
form for getting special incentives on limited-window offers.
Hilton Hawaii integrated the Web into its agency communication
plan. HiltonHawaii.com has a special agent section about
packages, educational rates, information on its Hawaii Travel
Agents HHonors incentive program, and a section in which agents can
opt in for the Hilton Hawaii travel-trade newsletter.
The Outrigger Specialist program is on Outrigger's site. It
includes a five-part curriculum and a 25-question exam.
Additionally, Outrigger gives amenities compliments of their
Outrigger Specialist agent to the agents' clients when the guests
arrive at any Outrigger property in the Pacific.
Graduates of the program get gift certificates for their own
travel to Hawaii.
Outrigger also provides information on its network of sales
agents around the world, destinations, planning, niche markets such
as family travel and similar information on its Web site, according
to Lisa Tojo, Outrigger's director of interactive commerce.
She added that it plans to redesign both the Outrigger site and
the site of sister company Ohana Hotels (all former Outrigger
Hotels) to be more interactive and engaging for
travel agencies and their customers.
For its part, Aston works to educate agencies not just on its
own hotels but on Hawaii in general in several ways -- by
participating in Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau agent
workshops on the mainland and by teaming up with tour operators
such as Pleasant Holidays to run family seminars.
Through its parent company, ResortQuest International, agents
can take a certification program to become a ResortQuest
It's possible to apply for brochures and group RFPs on some
hotel sites. Hawaii resorts also promote specials through
third-party Web sites that target travel agencies, including
That's an indicator of how e-mail is becoming an important tool
for resorts seeking to promote special prices and to sell
Hawaii hoteliers know that agencies are often inundated with
blast faxes. Opt-in e-mails to agencies that have expressed
interest in selling Hawaii to their customers is a way to reduce
communication with agencies but increase the effectiveness of those
Outrigger sends weekly e-mails and quarterly mailed newsletters
to its specialists.
Aston e-mail broadcasts information about its specials and deals
Hilton provides agencies with turn-key e-mails that they can
forward to their customers.
"We think this is a wonderful way to get information quickly to
a targeted audience, with the agent retaining the 'call to action,'
" said Roberta Rinker-Ludloff, regional vice president of marketing
for Hilton Hawaii.
Of course, these properties are not using the Web alone to
communicate with agencies.
Marriott's Toner pointed out that travel agents like
Because of that, Marriott, acting on industry research, put
together a team of salespeople in the U.S. whose job is making
calls to Marriott's top-producing travel agencies to give them
updates on Hawaii developments.
All of these hotels have ambitious offline promotions targeting
Hilton Hawaii, for one, plans to launch a travel agent
educational program in 2003 that will focus on niche markets
important in Hawaii -- honeymoons, families, sports and spas, for
And, as is increasingly the case when it comes to hotels, Hawaii
and travel agencies, much of this information will be found on the
company's Web site.
The Palmer method of online learning
NEW YORK -- Heidi Palmer, a travel consultant with CWT/Chippewa
Valley in northern Wisconsin, believes that the Internet is one
reason her customers come back to her for future trips and refer
other clients to her.
She said she sees it as an invaluable educational tool that
supplements information from her primary source: tour
Palmer, a Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau Certified
Hawaii Specialist, might get some information about a resort she's
booking for a client through her tour operator, but then she goes
to hotel and resort Web sites for additional information about both
the resort and the destination.
That enables her to provide her clients with more information
about what they can see and do.
She said because of this, her clients come home impressed by the
amount of information she provided them and her expertise on
As a result, they come back to her and refer others to her, as
Palmer uses the Web as a marketing tool, too, showing those
clients who still come into her office images of Hawaii and its
properties on her computer screen.
Additionally, the Internet is a valuable communication tool for
She e-mails information to her clients, who like having it in
front of them quickly and with easy access, especially for a
complex and relatively expensive vacation like Hawaii.
Palmer's Hawaii business is growing.
The agency pushes Hawaii in a variety of ways -- decorating the
office with a Hawaiian theme, hyping it in the agency's annual fall
travel show held in nearby Eau Claire and promoting it in newspaper
ads. -- K.R.