One of Hawaii's most prominent tour wholesalers, Classic Vacations works regularly with travel agents to develop top-notch Hawaii itineraries. Shane Nelson, Travel Weekly's contributing editor for Hawaii, spoke recently with Classic Vacations President David Hu about what his company does to help agents sell the Aloha State, how they can benefit from Classic's agents rewards program and which islands are generating the most demand in 2016.
Q: Why is Hawaii an appealing destination for travel agents to sell?
A: Hawaii is a very unique destination. It has a fantastic sense of place, and given all the different things happening in the world right now, it is one of the safest destinations, because it is part of America. Being able to sell that aloha spirit along with it just being a safe and fantastic destination, Hawaii is going to be a good win in the consumers' eyes, [and] airfares right now are at some of the lowest levels we've seen in many years. We could see a great amount of demand from consumers in this space, and I think agents who know the destination and can sell all of Hawaii's various different attributes well could really benefit.
Q: In what ways does Classic Vacations help travel agents sell Hawaii?
A: We do a lot of different things. We do numerous webinars in conjunction with some of our key suppliers, and we have hosted fams, where we bring a lot of our agents out to the Islands to see various different properties. We have our reservation agents go out and visit to make sure they know the destination and all the key properties. We also do something we call Lunch and Learn. Our BDMs [business development managers] are constantly out there with key accounts and doing these Lunch and Learns, sometimes partnered up with key suppliers, so people can talk about the destination not only at a macro level — about, for example, what's great about Maui — but also what's great about certain hotels, as well. We also partner up with the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, along with the local tourism boards, and couple both sides of the message.
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Q: What sort of online tools does Classic Vacations offer travel agents?
A: We have a whole host of different online tools. If you look through our website, there's a bunch of different information about the destination. We have lots of videos on there. Every hotel has YouTube videos. We are able to talk a lot about the destination itself and then couple that with a lot of generic tools, meaning things that are useful for all of our destinations. We have private-label brochures that we can offer up and agents can send to their clients for all of the various different destinations and Hawaii properties and such. We have private-label tear sheets that travel agents can print out for specific properties and give to clients. We have certain suggested itineraries. Classic Assist is what we call our agent-facing website that not only has a lot of content agents can use, but they can also use it to book, as well. And a lot of our booking engine can be private-labeled, as well, and we're readying our website now to allow agents to private-label the website.
Q: When you say "private label," do you mean allowing agents to use your Web content but with their agency name on it?
A: Absolutely. They already have the ability to do the private-label booking engine right now, but we're going to have a different version come online in a couple more months, and we'll also have a different version in terms of the private-label content, as well, probably early next year. So they could upload their logo, and our website could be theirs. Early next year is probably what we're looking at for the content side, and it's going to be an entire revamp of our website. There will be a lot of good online tools going forward to definitely be on the lookout for.
Q: Did you folks seek input from agents for some of the changes you're working on?
A: Truth be told, we've heard a lot of feedback over the years, and there has been some criticism of our current site and how we could possibly enhance it. So we've taken feedback over the years, in terms of all the things people have wanted us to do, and kind of collated that, and pretty soon, you're going to see almost a brand-new site.
The southwestern coast of Lanai. Photo Credit: Pierce M. Meyers/Hawaii Tourism Authority
Q: How can agents selling Hawaii take advantage of Classic's agent reward program?
A: It's called Royalty Rewards, and every booking an agent makes, they are able to earn a specific amount of royalty points they can use toward any booking within Classic's system, meaning they can book hotels, flights, car rentals or whatever is in our system for a certain set of points. Or alternatively, this year we announced the ability to redeem some of it for cash. Now it's a different scale for cash, but we allow agents to have the option. So some people love using the rewards to fund some of their own independent fam trips, and so we help them book an airline ticket, or they are already going somewhere and they want to book an activity, so we allow them to book by Viator, our independent tour and activity provider. Anything that's in our system, even our Expedia affiliate network hotels, we allow them to use rewards on. We try to offer agents a lot of flexibility in terms of usage, but we also recognize people just want hard cash.
Q: Do you folks have any specials or packages to Hawaii that are performing well right now?
A: We have had for the last couple years this program called Takeoff to Hawaii, and we have around 30 to 40 different hotels that now participate, where if you stay for four nights or more on Oahu you receive an air credit of up to $400. Stay five nights on Maui, Kauai or the Big Island and you receive up to $500 and so forth. Classic also throws in an instant booking credit if you book it as a full-on package. … This is a program we've built over the last five or six years, and every year it's gotten richer, and the partners like it and want us to keep putting it out there. Right now, for example, for five nights in a deluxe oceanview at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort you can get a $275 air credit, a $100 Classic booking credit, every fifth night free and daily breakfast for two. Right now that is basically starting at $940 per person, so for two people it's not that expensive at all.
Q: Are there some standout destinations in Hawaii as you look ahead over 2016?
A: I think Oahu and Maui are shaping up to do well. We're seeing some good demand for Maui, [and] I think the new airlift from Virgin America coming into Oahu and Maui is going to stir up a lot more interest, as well. I think on top of that you're going to start seeing new inventory come on line with the Four Seasons on Oahu. But you're also going to see the renovated Four Seasons on Lanai and all these new properties stir up interest. … Looking back to when Disney's Aulani came on line [on west Oahu], that helped drive demand to the entire destination.