Poipu Beach gets into agents' hearts and minds

POIPU, Hawaii -- Poipu, the resort area on Kauai's south shore, has placed increasing emphasis on promoting to travel agents.

In upgrading its Internet site earlier this year, the Poipu Beach Resort Association added a travel agent page. At www.poipu-beach.org, agents can find a list of discounted rates for themselves at hotels and resorts and for golf, scuba and helicopter tours.

Last year, the PBRA started a Travel Weekly seminars-in-print program for agents and agent seminars with the National Travel Exchange shows. Both programs provide continuing education credits through the Institute of Certified Travel Agents (ICTA).

Although it might be too early to see results of the agent emphasis, Margy Parker, executive director of the 125-member association, said she had "one encouraging statistic."

A survey of Poipu hotel and condominium guests in January last year showed 28% had first heard about Poipu from their travel agents. In a June/July survey, the figure had increased to 36% (second only to 37% for friends and relatives). Parker is encouraged that requests for information have increased.

The PBRA, she said, is averaging more than 1,000 requests for information each month from consumers and agents, up from 500 to 750 a month last year. She attributes this to both increased consumer and agent promotion.

Early this year, the group started banner ads for Poipu on American Online's aol.com site as well as on the Hawaii State Vacation Planner site of Kauai-based H&S Publishing at www.hshawaii.com.

Parker also is pleased by Poipu's arrival and hotel occupancy growth. According to management consultants PKF-Hawaii, Poipu had an average occupancy of 78% for this year's first quarter, up 6.5 percentage points from the 71.5% in last year's period. For 1998, the area's occupancy -- at 67% -- was flat with 1997.

Kauai's total visitors increased 9.7% for the quarter, compared to an overall state increase of just 1.1%, according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. "We're doing well, and it appears we have absorbed the extra hotel rooms that have come on the market," said Parker.

She was referring to the December 1997 reopening of the Sheraton Kauai Resort, which underwent a $40 million renovation and reconstruction. Sheraton Kauai's 413 rooms brought Poipu's total rooms and condo units to more than 3,000.

The hotel had been closed since it was damaged by September 1992's Hurricane Iniki. It was because of Iniki that the PBRA began to be more aggressive in marketing to agents. In early 1997, a PBRA survey found that many agents were still reluctant to book Poipu. They saw in CRSs that three hotels were closed because of hurricane damage.

This gave Poipu a perception problem. (Although the Sheraton reopened, the 426-room Waiohai and adjacent 139-room Poipu Beach remain closed and are being sold to Marriott.) "We found 33% of agents surveyed were reluctant to book Poipu because they thought we had not fully recovered," Parker said.

In spring 1997, the state legislature, recognizing Poipu's concern, appropriated $100,000 for the group in each of the next two fiscal years specifically to educate agents. The PBRA became the only destination group not marketing a whole island to get state funding.

Parker said that such suppliers as United and Poipu's Hyatt, Sheraton, Marc Resorts, Outrigger and Castle properties together matched the state funding for the two agent programs.

Last year, there were four eight-page educational inserts in Travel Weekly that included questions for agents to answer and contests for prizes. Topics of this year's three four-page inserts have been family travel, romantic getaways and active pursuits.

Early this year, PBRA sent out 1999 materials to agents who participated in last year's program. "We've had lots of letters from agents thanking us for seminars in print, and we have even had some walk into our office to thank us," she said.

Parker added that she has also received a positive reaction to the revamped Web site.

The PBRA began National Travel Exchange show participation last fall with four seminars each in cities in the Pacific Northwest/western Canada, on the East Coast and in Texas. So far, there have been three series this year -- Northern and Southern California and the East Coast -- with a fall series scheduled for the Rockies.

Poipu Beach Resort Association, Phone: (888) 744-0888, Fax: (808) 742-7887, Web: www.poipu-beach.org, E-mail: [email protected]

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