TW forum reveals agents' influence on sales

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HONOLULU -- Travel agents believe they are the primary influence on what products travelers choose when they go to Hawaii, according to an e-mail survey of agents conducted by Travel Weekly. Editor in chief Arnie Weissmann presented the survey results at the publication's 2002 Hawaii Leadership forum here last month.

Eighty-four percent of respondents said they were the major influence over clients in selecting what vacation package or type of accommodation travelers ultimately choose, and 30% of those also said that they were the major influence on a client's choice of Hawaii as a destination in the first place.

Fourteen percent said they were somewhat influential in these areas, and less than 2% said they had little influence in client choice of either destination or product selection.

The conference, which was additionally sponsored by Starwood Hotels and Resorts in Hawaii and held at the Royal Hawaiian hotel in Waikiki, brought together 175 representatives from the Hawaii travel community.

Survey results also indicated that cruises, Mexico, inclusive resorts, Caribbean destinations and Las Vegas are five types of vacations that may have more appeal than Hawaii to some clients, due to their price, location and travelers' preferences.

The survey indicated that competition also comes from mainland theme parks, the Bahamas, international travel and sun-and-sand destinations on the mainland, according to those who responded to the question," ... which of the following are more popular than Hawaii with your clients?"

Fifty percent said the reason other vacation products are more popular is price. Twenty-four percent said Hawaii's distance from the mainland is a deterrent, and 19% said their clients' preferences simply are in the cruise or inclusive category.

The price of a Hawaii vacation appeared again in a question asking for the top factors that would help increase bookings here. Eighty-two percent said lower air fare would help, 54% said less-expensive packages and 44% said more frequent or more direct air routes to Hawaii.

The remaining four factors that would help agents increase Hawaii sales had to do with travel agent education.

Being part of a destination program where clients are referred to agents pulled 27% of respondents' votes, followed by the need to learn more about the destination through a specialist training program.

Those surveyed also cited the desire for more unique packages to the islands; more marketing support and better sales tools from Hawaii; easier options to book the destination in the GDSs; and easier options to book Hawaii on the Internet.

In response to the question, "Is your experience with the recovery of Hawaii bookings since Sept. 11 the same for other destinations you sell?", 56% said it is about the same as other destinations, while 27% said Hawaii bookings are recovering more slowly. However, 15% said Hawaii bookings are recovering more quickly than other destinations.

And in a question asking how Hawaii bookings are doing now compared with bookings before Sept. 11, 42% said their bookings are about the same.

Twenty-five percent picked the response "sales are climbing but have not yet reached the pre-Sept. 11 level"; 19% said they continue to be "significantly lower" than before Sept. 11; and 11% said their bookings now are better than they were before Sept. 11.

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