Ask Lois Shore about the long-term success of Outrigger Enterprises Group, and she'll insist a great deal of the credit belongs to travel agents. Vice president of distribution and marketing services for the family-owned, Hawaii-based lodging and hospitality company, Shore said it would be tough to imagine doing business without them.
"Travel agents are incredibly important to us," she explained. "They represent probably the largest single sales channel that we have, and it's been that way for many years. So we truly value our relationship with agents, and we want to continue that relationship and continue to be agent-friendly in the future."
A Hawaii tradition for more than six decades, Outrigger has become one of the largest hotel and resort management companies in the Asia-Pacific and Oceania markets, and today it operates more than 40 properties, with nearly 11,000 rooms in the Hawaiian Islands, Australia, Fiji, Bali, Guam, Thailand, China and Vietnam.
And that diverse range of accommodations options, combined with their appeal to a broad spectrum of clients -- especially those traveling to the 50th state -- certainly seems to have helped endear Outrigger to agents.
"I've put my daughter, who's 26, at the Outrigger Reef," said agent Carol McConnell, owner of Around the Globe Travel in Huntington Beach, Calif. While her daughter "had a great time" and loved the property, McConnell said, she has also placed older clients at the property.
"My boomers, my 50- and 60-year-olds, really thought it was great, as well," she said. "And I've put lots of families there because it's so centrally located and easy to get everywhere."
Speaking of Outrigger as a whole, McConnell added that she "just loves the staff."
"They go out of their way to do everything," she said. "Maybe it's part of the whole Hawaii tourism industry, but the people at Outrigger are fantastic."
Launched officially in January 2009, Outrigger's agent website at www.outriggeragent.com is immediately accessible to retailers with an active IATA/ARC number. The site offers complete listings of the company's specials and packages, fact sheets, hotels and resorts guides, property updates, field rep directories and alerts.
However, travel agents who participate in the Outrigger Hospitality Specialist Program can take advantage of an impressive collection of extras on the company's agent site available only to those enrolled in the rewards program.
More than just a place to earn points for each client stay, Outrigger's specialist module enables agents access to welcome amenities for clients in the agent's name, monthly electronic newsletters, access to a command center to manage bookings, point redemption and optional online education courses.
"We have three courses that are online right now," Shore said. "The first one is, of course, the certification course. Agents have to take that to become a specialist, and you earn points by doing that."
Once an agent becomes a specialist, he or she has access to two additional courses: one on Oahu properties only and a second on Neighbor Island hotels and resorts.
"A third module will be coming in the future, which will cover our international properties," Shore said. "And each time you take a course, you earn additional reward points."
Outrigger points can be redeemed for cash or merchandise gift cards or can be used toward complimentary stays at Outrigger properties.
"It's really, really hard to sell somebody a product that you haven't seen firsthand, even with the Internet," said Vicki Briggs, a senior travel consultant with Plaza Travel in Encino, Calif. "It's so much easier if you've actually been there and experienced it.
"Giving us free nights, or credits toward those free nights, it's huge because it makes us think, 'Wow, I can afford to go there,'" she added. "If we can get a decent airline ticket and we can spend a few nights here and there, you figure our efforts are paid off, and Outrigger is very supportive in that regard."
According to Shore, other agents have put their Outrigger rewards to good use on a more personal level.
"One of our top bookers used the money he earned from this program to buy an engagement ring for his girlfriend," she said. "I think they're actually going to get married at one of our properties, as well."
Outrigger Specialists also receive invitations to the company's new series of exclusive fam trips, Travel Agent Alii Weekends, alii being the Hawaiian word for "royalty." Nineteen agents participated in the program's most recent installment last September.
"We put it into our travel agent e-newsletter, and we were sold out basically within 24 hours," Shore said. "And we underwrote only part of the air ... so we were pretty thrilled that agents had such a positive response to coming out and spending a weekend with us."
The event featured a creative, treasure hunt approach to site inspections at both the Outrigger Waikiki and Outrigger Reef complete with stops at shops on Outrigger's Waikiki Beach Walk. Much of the weekend was also dedicated to intensive education and agent feedback about what Outrigger is doing right as well as where improvement is necessary.
"If you can get an agent to see things up close and really experience them, they feel so much more comfortable speaking about those experiences with a client," Shore said. "And they're also so much more comfortable when they know the people they're selling and they know that you're backing them up.
"For me, personally, that's the most rewarding part of my job."
To read the complete Hawaii Loves Travel Agents special section, click here.