HONOLULU -- Survival in a constantly changing industry was the
recurring theme at the Travel Weekly Leadership Forum here.
About 200 top retailers, wholesalers, tourism executives and
airline representatives gathered at the Waikiki Beach Marriott
Resort to examine Hawaii's travel industry, analyze trends and
share ideas about how to improve business at all levels.
Some of the highlights from the panel discussions follow:
Reminders and possibilities
• Rick Garrett of Happy Vacations said he is starting a
concierge call service at his agency to help customers book
activities after they're in a destination. It's one of the ways
Happy Vacations is trying to be relevant to customers during -- not
just before -- their trip, he said. The company also will start an
e-price initiative to help scout for better deals on the Internet,
then alert agents to match it so they don't lose the sale, Garrett
• Kerri Jaye of Apple Vacations suggested several ways to
attract and retain Hawaii travelers.
Extra-value packages in the wedding and honeymoon market would
enable Hawaii to compete against destinations that offer locations
for free weddings and entice couples to come back, Jaye said.
Return specials offered at hotel checkout also will ensure that
visitors return, she said.
But the best way to facilitate repeat customers is by capturing
travelers when they're young, she said.
• Customer retention was the primary focus for Rick Baron of
Tauck World Discovery. He called for a state "exit questionnaire"
to supplement the survey passengers must fill out when they fly
into Hawaii. This, he said, would help "give us the information we
need to follow up with people who enjoyed the experience and would
• Dan Westbrook of American Airlines Vacations emphasized
choosing business partners that have an equal investment in
Hawaii's success. It's the only way to achieve successful
cross-promotion, he said.
"People will promote your product as long as it's economically
viable," he said.
Trends in distribution
• The slowed economic climate makes the market of home-based
agents even more important, according to Joanie Ogg, president of
the National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents (Nacta).
"I predict that [home-based agents] will be the group to focus
on in the future," she said.
However, travel suppliers need to improve the way they educate
these agents, and communication between home-based agents and their
host agencies needs to improve, as well, she said.
• Will retailers become obsolete? No way, said Expedia's Michael
Expedia's conversion rate is 6%, meaning 94% research the site
and leave without booking. Consequently, "this business is always
going to be about human intervention," Reichartz said.
Expedia employs 350 agents at its call center in Las Vegas, and
the company needs them to help close the sale, he said.
The shape of leisure travel
• More travel by extended families and more requests for soft
adventure are among the trends shaping leisure travel, according to
Celeste Allen of Certified Vacations.
Allen suggested that tour operators and agents might look for
more mother/daughter activities to fulfill a growing market.
• Ron Letterman of Classic Custom Vacations said if Hawaii
invests in its infrastructure and gets local residents to embrace
tourists, "the rest will take care of itself."
He also said it's time to cull out travel agents who take fam
trips not for product knowledge but because they're fun and
• But fam trips can be vital to agents' gaining firsthand
product knowledge, according to Ed Jackson of Runaway Tours.
Then agents can "match client profiles with appropriate
accommodations and experiences," he said.
Jackson also said he is seeing more single-island travel, which
has been made easier by new nonstop flights to neighbor
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