'Communicate your passion' to potential clients, group specialist says


A five-year industry veteran, Melissa Sutton of All About Travel in Sioux Falls, S.D., is passionate about paradise. When it comes to her dream Hawaii getaway, the travel consultant would "love to spend a week on every island to soak up what makes each one so unique and special."

Q: In what areas are you seeing your greatest group bookings?

Melissa SuttonA:
Destination weddings are huge everywhere, and Hawaii is no exception. Each island offers dream backdrops for a wedding, from beaches to waterfalls to lava coastlines. I've handled small weddings, with just the bride and groom, to weddings with family members coming from all corners of the U.S. Family reunions are great, too, especially with the larger two- and three-bedroom condos and rental homes. If you can find a way to bundle savings for your group and create a great experience, they'll return to you for future travel and tell their friends, as well.

Q: What about foodies?

I haven't gotten a lot of requests from foodies yet, but I always promote the food and wine festivals, Spam Jam, farm-to-
table cuisine, local farmers markets and little hole-in-the-wall local places where clients can get real Hawaiian food.

Q: Why do you feel you've been successful in booking group business to Hawaii?

I love the islands, the people, food, music, land, sea and especially the Aloha spirit. I have had clients tell me I'm so passionate about Hawaii. They want to get in on the excitement by learning all about Hawaii before they even leave home. If you can communicate your passion for your job and the destination you're selling, you'll fire your customers up to want to feel that, too. Show your dedication to working hard to make their trip amazing, pay attention to detail and let your passion shine through. They'll want to take on the adventure of travel with you.

Q: What considerations come into play when booking groups vs. leisure?

We all know booking groups can be a bit like herding cats. You have to be very patient from the first phone call all the way through the last thank-you note. Groups to Hawaii will often span several generations, and it can be challenging to find resorts and activities that provide something for everyone. So you need to listen carefully. Also, there's a lot more that can go wrong with booking groups than with a honeymoon couple. The logistics require careful planning on your part so that the client feels it was all easy and seamless. That's what will make you a hero in their eyes.

Q: What tips can you offer to help agents boost their group clientele?

Put yourself out there! Use social media, put up fliers suggesting a food/wine tour, farm-to-table tour and family reunions. And be creative. Since you can now zipline on the four major islands, name a program "Zip Across Hawaii." You can also contact your current clients to ask if they would like to celebrate a milestone anniversary, graduation or holiday with their family in Hawaii. Make it an event that perhaps they hadn't considered yet.

Q: Where else are your agents finding opportunities to book Hawaii business?

The office where I work does a lot of advertising in local papers, especially the outlying small-town papers. We're in the Midwest, so we have a lot of farmers. What do farmers do in the winter? They travel! So those ads really keep our phones ringing.

Once a year, our office has a "Hawaii Night" where we invite the public to come and learn about the islands. It's not about sales that night. It's about sharing passion for and knowledge of Hawaii with the group. We get a lot of bookings that way.

Q: What about referrals?

If you send clients to Hawaii and they have a great time, be sure to thank them for allowing you to help them with their trip. Remind them you're happy to help them in the future. And mention that if they have friends or family that might be interested in traveling, you'll treat them with the same care. They really will share your name the next time someone mentions they need a vacation.


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