With increased airlift to Hawaii, and travelers reporting high interest in going to the Islands, there is increased opportunity for travel agents to make more sales with higher price points.
A Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) forecast for Q4 2014 projected that from October through December, the number of scheduled domestic air seats would jump 8.9% above the same period in 2013. And according to preliminary statistics released by the HTA in December, arrivals through November were up 0.9%, at 7.5 million.
Delta Airlines offers daily nonstop flights from Seattle to Maui and will launch nonstop flights between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Honolulu in 2015. Hawaiian Airlines launched daily, nonstop service to Maui from San Francisco on Nov. 20.
In response to demand for travel to Hawaii next summer, Hawaiian Airlines is bringing back its seasonal, nonstop service from Oakland and Los Angeles to Lihue and Kona beginning on May 20, airline officials stated in a press release. Additionally, the airline is adding a second daily seasonal, nonstop flight between Los Angeles and Maui that will start on June 11.
"This increased air service is one of the key positive trends for 2015," said Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays. "We also believe that lower oil prices will result in lower airfares to Hawaii in 2015 compared to 2014, increasing overall demand."
"We saw a slight decrease in our booking windows earlier in the year when airfares dropped in June," said David Hu, president of Classic Vacations. "But as we look to 2015, we're seeing agents book approximately 120 days out, seven days more than in 2013."
Richards said Pleasant has witnessed a similar trend.
"The length of stay hasn't really changed for us," he said. "What we're seeing is a booking window that has upped from 90 days to six to 10 months."
Levi Sanchez, travel agency engagement manager at Blue Sky Tours, noticed longer stays when airfares were higher since clients wanted to take advantage of free night and resort credit perks, such as promotions offering every fourth night free and breakfast for two at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa and the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa.
"If travelers extend their stays to eight nights, they'll have two free nights," Sanchez said. "And that's a significant value."
"Wholesalers have clearly been listening to travel agents lately," said Melissa Sutton with All About Travel in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The travel consultant notes that booking sites are more user-friendly via tools that help her find what she needs more quickly. She said incentives should help stimulate destination demand.
"We can add in promo codes easily on some, with others having the promos built in and applied automatically," Sutton said. "That takes so much guesswork out of making sure we're getting our clients the very best prices."
She is especially keen on MLT Vacations' Rewards to Go promo where agents earn money for personal travel.
"I used $600 on airfare for my October vacation, and I'm saving the rest for Hawaii next fall," she said.
MLT has also introduced Marketing Hub, a Web-based platform accessible through the company's WorldAgent Direct booking portal. Agents can create social media content, fliers, e-postcards, Web banners and other promotional materials.
Since travel advisers who work with Pleasant and Journese enjoy the flexibility of combining their products and customizing itineraries, travelers can pair tropical escapes like Hawaii and Tahiti. With Hawaiian Airlines' weekly service between Honolulu and Papeete, engaged couples can hold a destination wedding in the Hawaiian Islands, and then fly as newlyweds to Tahiti for their honeymoon.
Pleasant will also resurrect its Hawaii Guided Vacations in 2015, with departures beginning May 12.
"Hawaii Guided Vacations offer exposure to multiple Hawaiian Islands to maximize time in Hawaii and help broaden the customer base outside California and the West Coast," Richards said. "These are ideal for multigenerational travel. They're also an opportunity for solo travelers to join small group travel to share experiences with others."
Pleasant sends customized emails 21 days prior to departure recommending activities and explaining why it's important to book them in advance.
"We're also electronically connecting our hotel partners for real-time rates and inventory," Richards said. "We'll have a more robust inventory process for 2015."
According to Sanchez, Blue Sky focuses on tools that help agents level the playing field when battling for sales with large online retailers and membership clubs.
"Our Agent Flex program allows all travel agents to have the most aggressive rate when a customer's biggest consideration is on having the absolute lowest price," he said.
Agents can attach a promo code to any price in the Blue Sky system to reduce the overall package price, either through the wholesaler's online VAX booking engine or by calling a reservations agent. Agents will receive a 7% commission on the land portion of a Blue Sky Flex program booking and 3% on the air component.
"Our travel agent incentives tend to be holistic in nature, in that we incentivize for all overall sales," said Classic's Hu. "For Hawaii, we believe it's more critical to provide more promotions to help stimulate the travel adviser's customers to think about Hawaii and better combat pricing issues."
Classic's Take Off to Hawaii program provides $100 instant Classic credit plus additional $100 West Coast/Canada credit on bookings for specific 2015 travel dates at participating properties. Hu added that Classic will launch a host of online tools in the coming months to help advisers become more efficient and allow for better conversion.
With increased airlift, value-added promotions, loyalty programs and fresh technical resources, wholesalers are working hard to help make Hawaii a booking breeze.