Travel Weekly's contributing editor for Hawaii, Shane Nelson, recently caught up with former travel agency owner and avid golfer Alan Hale, who is now the president and CEO of tour wholesaler Fairways Golf Vacations. The two discussed how Fairways Golf can help agents increase their bottom line on Aloha State golf getaways, one of Hawaii's best under-the-radar courses and whether Mexico's resurgence is impacting the Islands' golf business. Travel Weekly: How does Fairways Golf Vacations help travel agents sell Hawaii golf trips?
We really are a true tour operator and wholesaler in every sense of the word, and we will create golf packages that agents can earn a full 10% commission on. But we also pay a commission on the greens fees, so instead of just making a commission on a hotel, they'll be able to make a commission on those greens fees, the car rental or anything else we put into a package. And we can do an FIT Hawaii package, or the agents can select from some of the three- to 14-night packages we have now on our travel agent website. TW: What are some of the largest challenges agents face when proposing a Hawaii golf vacation to clients?
Getting over the fear of the unknown. Most agents don't know golf, and if they're not selling golf already or not a golfer, they therefore know very little about golf resorts or golf courses. Then if you talk to somebody who wants specific information about golf, that can be very intimidating and challenging.
But one of the things we do offer a travel agent is, we're happy to get on a phone call with their customer, if they're nervous that somebody might ask specific questions about a golf course in Hawaii, like "What's the yardage?" or "My wife's not that great, is the course going to be really challenging for her?" Those are the kinds of questions we're happy to help with.
And I think there are a lot of agents who are selling a lot of golf vacations and don't even realize it. ... If they're sending somebody to Kauai, and they're staying at the St. Regis, which has 36 amazing holes in an spectacular setting, there's an opportunity to earn some commission on greens fees. TW: Can you offer some advice to agents who don't necessarily specialize in golf about how they might profit from the market segment?
I think it's truly about asking the right questions and learning what the golf markets are. Hawaii is a golf market, and if someone is going to Hawaii, there is the potential they are a golfer.
A key point, however, is where are they going in Hawaii? If they're going to Honolulu, it's likely their first visit to Hawaii and may just be about going to the beach hotel, seeing a luau, seeing the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. However, if somebody is a repeat customer, and they're going to Maui or the Kona side of the Big Island, those have the highest concentrations of golf courses in the state.
Just asking if people are considering playing golf during their visit is a good idea, and if the answer is yes, following up with "Are you taking your clubs?" or "Are you just playing once or twice?" And then, letting them know you can book tee times or even create a package through a partnership with us at Fairways Golf can really pay off. TW: Is there an under-the-radar golf course in Hawaii you really like? One folks might not be really familiar with?
If I was going to choose one, I'd say the Mauna Kea Golf Course at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel north of Kona on the Big Island. It was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., who is one of the most highly regarded architects in the world. That resort is sort of off the radar. There are a lot of folks who know about it, but it's not on Maui and it's not on Oahu. As a golfer myself, the Mauna Kea course is one I'd have no problem recommending, and you can play that course without being a guest at the resort. TW: Is resurgent demand for Mexico affecting golf business to Hawaii?
I don't think so. Mexico golf is Caribbean golf; it's flat. There are a few terrific golf courses for sure, but it's not going to be like the volcanic islands you find in Hawaii. The golf courses in Hawaii are spectacular. Yes, Mexico will have your Jack Nicklaus signature course and other famous designers, but it's kind of like in Florida. There's only so much you can do on flat land. TW: Are more people interested in playing golf on Lanai since Oracle founder Larry Ellison purchased the island?
It's definitely received a lot of publicity lately because of who owns the island now. It's a great golf destination. It's obviously a pretty small niche, though. You can take the ferry across from Maui and do a golf day, [and] Lanai certainly has two top-rated courses. They are redoing one of them right now, though. Larry Ellison is putting a ton of money into that upgrade, and it's going to be spectacular.