HONOLULU -- One of the advantages to selling Hawaii, say tourism officials, is that the destination holds strong appeal for first-time and repeat visitors alike.

And that appeal is growing, according to the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT), which reports total passenger volume to Hawaii in October rose 10% over the same period in 2003.

But while the destination is an easy sell, travel agents can be more effective in marketing to both groups if they know the differences between them.

According to the DBEDTs newly released 2003 Visitor Satisfaction and Activity Report (VSAR), for example, the top five activities more likely to be enjoyed by first-time visitors to Hawaii from the U.S. than by their repeat traveler counterparts were, in rank order: a Polynesian show or luau; a tour bus excursion; a lounge act or stage show; a visit to a historical site; and a boat, submarine or whale-watching tour.

Experiencing the Hawaiian culture is very important to first-timers, as are the music and arts, said Jay Talwar, vice president of marketing for the Hawaii Visitors and Conventions Bureau (HVCB), adding that newcomers also want to see as much of the destination as possible.

They are more likely to take bus and boat tours and visit historic sites, so, in a general sense, their tour experience is more managed, Talwar said.

Surprisingly, the top activity for repeat travelers from the U.S. is going to supermarkets, according to the VSAR survey.

The next four activities, in rank order, are running, jogging or fitness walking; arts or craft fairs; golf; and driving a rental car.

Repeat visitors like to experience Hawaii on their own, Talwar said. They enjoy renting a car and engaging the destination, especially Hawaiis people. Theyve been here before and interacted with people, so they feel very comfortable navigating Hawaii for themselves on future visits.

Travel agents can help that process along by matching clients with the type of property and location that fits their budgets and preferences, which means that the more they know about Hawaiis diversity -- on all six islands -- the easier it is to sell.

The HVCB supports that effort in a variety of ways, including its Ke Kula O Hawaii self-study program, a tool travel agents can use to educate themselves on how to sell Hawaii to their clients.

Our Ke Kula O Hawaii program helps agents prioritize their activities for clients and create a travel itinerary that best meets their needs, Talwar said.

Talwar cited honeymooners as an important group of potential repeat visitors. Many repeat visitors first came here for their honeymoon and then come back at different periods during their marriage, he said.

In fact, 87.5% of U.S. wedding/honeymooners said they were very or somewhat likely to revisit Hawaii in the next five years, according to the 2003 VSAR.

This also helps explain why vow renewals are so popular in Hawaii, Talwar said.

Oahu

Although Oahu tends to attract first-time visitors, according to Noelani Schilling-Wheeler, director of sales and mar- keting for the Oahu Visitors Bureau, honeymooners and families are strong draws for the repeat market because of the diversity of our product.

She encouraged agents to get to know the breadth and depth of the island when targeting repeat clients.

She suggested surfing lessons, an excursion with Bike Hawaii or a visit to the Hawaii Maritime Museum for a family group who might have been sent to Pearl Harbor or the Iolani Palace on a first visit.

For a returning anniversary couple, Schilling-Wheeler recommended a sail with Wild Side Specialty Tours to swim with dolphins, a couples spa or an extended stay on the North Shore.

A couple interested in the arts should visit the Honolulu Academy of Arts and the Hawaii State Art Museum, dine at LUraku or the Side Street Inn, do a bird-watching hike with Oahu Nature Tours, take a class with Aunty Mary Lou to learn the art of feather lei-making and check out what is playing at the Hawaii Theater, she said.

The list is endless. It is easy for agents to convert their clients into repeat visitors to Oahu, but they need to know the product and they need to understand the interests of their clients.

Oahu offers agents training programs to help them know the product and position and sell Oahu to different niche clients, Schilling-Wheeler said, adding that the OVB can customize its training to each group. We also work closely with our wholesale partners in reaching serious agents and supporting their efforts, she said.

Maui

Maui goes after niche markets, such as romance, golf and active/adventure travel, which include first-time and repeat visitors, according to Kelii Brown, director of public relations and promotions for the Maui Visitors Bureau.

In all, more than 1 million people visited Maui in 2002, of whom 63% were repeaters.

For off-the-beaten-path activities [for repeat visitors], I would visit Makawao for art galleries and boutiques and a Komodas bakery, famous for its cream puffs and doughnuts on a stick, he said.

Other unusual experiences include a visit to the Tedeschi Winery at Ulupalakua Ranch, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and an outing to Paia, featuring gourmet restaurants, one-of-a-kind shops and Hooki- pa Beach Park, billed as the windsurfing capital of the world.

This year, the bureau introduced a Maui For Life! campaign designed to position Maui as a health and wellness destination in Hawaii, Brown said.

Kauai

In Kauai, known for its rugged beauty and outdoor activities, making sure the agent matches the resources of Kauai, whether it be accommodations or activities, with the right visitor makes for a wonderful vacation experience, said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau.

She suggested a helicopter tour of Kauai and a boat tour of the Napali Coast for first-time visitors to Kauai because they offer dramatically different views of the islands natural beauty in remote, less-traveled locations.

Repeat and first-time visitors can also experience the diversity of activities in the ocean, Kanoho said. They can learn to surf, snorkel, scuba dive and kayak through the many activity companies in Kauai.

The Big Island

The top visitors attraction on the Big Island is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which draws about 2.5 million visitors annually, according to George Applegate, executive director, Big Island Visitors Bureau.

But repeat visitors to the island might also enjoy the various festivals and activities that showcase its culture and history, such as the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, which takes place in November every year.

The Big Island Visitors Bureau is also targeting its growing market share within the bridal and romance markets by releasing a full-color Happily Ever After Romance Guide.

The free guide offers tips on selecting wedding locations and planning details, and contact information for resorts and hotels as well as wedding planners, coordinators and vendors.

Travel partners

In addition to efforts by the HVCB and the individual island visitors bureaus, tour operators and resorts offer travel agents resources designed to lure first-timers and repeat visitors to Hawaii.

Pleasant Holidays, the largest travel company serving Hawaii, relies on travel agencies to profile their clients, according to Amy Terada, vice president of marketing, but does conduct in-office training and sends fax flyers and e-mails to nearly 20,000 agencies across the U.S.

The most productive agencies regularly use this information, including customizing and downloading product flyers we produce at PleasantAgent.com, to stay in touch with their past customers, which can lead to another sale, Terada said.

Repeat clientele is the lifeblood of any travel agency, she said. It is precious and must be nurtured.

For more on selling Hawaii, visit www.gohawaii.com. For information about the Ke Kula O Hawaii program, go to www.hvcb.org/travelpro or contact Dan Gomez at (808) 923-1811.

To contact reporter Felicity Long, send e-mail to [email protected]

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