Funjet Vacations, a core component of the Mark Travel Corp.'s collection of brands, is a major Hawaii wholesaler that partners with travel agents to develop family excursions to the Islands.
Shane Nelson, Travel Weekly's contributing editor for Hawaii, spoke recently with Funjet President Mike Going about what makes the Aloha State so appealing to families, some of the most in-demand products for the market and opportunities for agents to increase their bottom line.
Q: What makes Hawaii such a popular destination for families?
A: I just think it's one of those destinations that in its basic nature is set up to welcome multigenerational family trips. I think it comes from cultural heritage. Look at how grandparents are respected and new children are celebrated. … People are very giving, very hospitable and very sharing. … And then whether you're a hiker, a biker, a surfer, a beach-and-pool person or a foodie, if you want to have some unique experiences Hawaii is just knee-deep in them. I [also] look at the cultural underpinnings and the actual product offerings as being the two big drivers of why we think, and why consumers think, that it's such a great place to take a family and be pretty sure that everyone is going to have a good time.
Q: How does Funjet help travel agents sell family vacations to Hawaii?
A: We're absolutely the leader in wholesale-booking technology. VAX [VacationAccess] is the driver of that, and we like to make it as easy as we can for agents. Hawaii sometimes is a destination that requires a little extra service, so we've got a specifically trained Hawaii reservation-center staff. It's one of those great job requirements, where you have to go to Hawaii to understand the product. Taking a course online is one thing. Going to experience it is another, so we have Hawaii expertise at our call center to augment what we do technologically for agents.
Q: What Hawaii hotel or resort properties are generally the most popular for Funjet customers traveling with kids?
A: When you look at some of their experiential offerings, Aulani is a fantastic place for families, because Disney's marriage of all things Disney [with] all things Hawaii has been done in such a fantastic way that we get great feedback. And then there's the Hyatt Regency Maui, the Sheraton Kona, the Hilton Waikoloa Village, some of the properties up and down the street in Waikiki; there's just a fantastic breadth and depth of product across the board.
Condo properties are also something that's selling incredibly well with agents. … Outrigger and Aston are great. They've got good value and diversity of product, [and] those have, from a condo standpoint, been good sellers.
The Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay is another family favorite.
Q: What Hawaii activity options are typically most popular for families?
A: I think people expect this answer, but it is true: Pearl Harbor remains the No. 1 seller when you really just look at volume of travel and volume of traffic and the number of people who will absolutely go there. And we've found that it's not just appealing to the generation that was part of that conflict; it has an all-ages aspect to it.
But paddleboarding, snorkeling, day sails on a catamaran, any water-based activity is probably the next big tranche. People get to do things in Hawaii that you wouldn't elsewhere, like hopping in a Hawaiian outrigger canoe and getting some paddling in. You're just not going to get to do that anywhere else. Those experiences that are very unique to the Islands are very popular.
Q: Booking these options through Funjet on VAX makes them commissionable for agents, right?
A: Yes, they sure are. And what's interesting is we see that on the big opportunity banner for agents and specifically when it comes to Hawaii. We have an informal term for it around here: the second sale. The first sale is, let me decide where I want to stay, what island or islands I want to stay on and then get my flights squared away. … Many times an agent will do the first part of the transaction and send someone on their holiday. The real agent-service opportunity and experiential opportunity comes with all these features and activities. So when a good agent understands what a family is looking for, what the age ranges are and they can help construct a vacation around it, then you're being more of a full-service agent than just doing air, hotels, transfers or car. So we think [activities are] a big opportunity. It couldn't be easier to book and add on after the first transactions are complete. Do it a month before travel when people are really getting excited about the travel and help plan it out a little bit. Certainly, if you don't do it, you're leaving money on the table, but you're also leaving client experience on the table. And in this day and age, when agents are fighting against OTAs for their value proposition, it's one of the big separators that an agent can do for a client.
Q: Is there one island that stands out from the rest for families?
A: This is like, "Which of your kids do you love the most?" … It's an opinion question, so we tried to put some numbers behind it. If you take Aulani out of the Oahu numbers, Maui probably is the big family favorite. It has a great breadth of product, condos and resorts, lots of activities and it offers that rich, natural, great Hawaiian experience families are looking for.
Q: How has Funjet's business to Hawaii been thus far in 2016?
A: I'm happy to say that on bookings, we are up double digits on both room nights and revenue. And that is a real strong performance coming off about three years' worth of additional growth. [And] I think we're getting some [market] share [from other operators]. Agents are adapting to our product, our programs, our offerings, our people, our call center and seeing us for what we're really worth. And then the next layer up, when you add in the Mark Travel brand's offerings, we've got the power of United Vacations and Blue Sky Tours along with Funjet Vacations, so we've got multiple ways along with multiple approaches to get families and get guests to Hawaii.