Funjet strengthens its Hawaii focus, foresees strong summer

Jorn KaaeJorn Kaae, Mark Travel's senior vice president of relationship management, spoke with Travel Weekly's contributing editor for Hawaii, Shane Nelson, about Funjet Vacations, Mark Travel's flagship brand. The two discussed Hawaii as a family destination and Funjet's efforts to increase its business to the state.

Travel Weekly: What is it about Hawaii that makes it such a good destination for families?

Jorn Kaae:
Hawaii has a long tradition of being a perfect place for families because of its variety, its culture, its many things for the family to do together. It has great national parks, great sites and, of course, things like whale-watching and other [activities] that are absolute family favorites.

In addition to that, I think it has tremendous hotel and condo product that has been catering to families for many years and has been specializing in family travel, and I think that shows.

TW: How did Funjet's family business to Hawaii fare in 2010?

It was a strong year for Hawaii. It was kind of a comeback year for Hawaii, I would say. The overall business was definitely on the uptick, and we saw especially a lot of growth in the condo properties, so that's why we think the family market is getting back to being very, very strong.

TW: Is 2011 off to a good start? How does summer 2011 look?

Father and son surfing in HawaiiKaae:
We are seeing the same for 2011, actually. We are very pleased with that. The growth for this year over last year I can tell you is strong, double-digit growth. We are seeing very strong indications that this summer will be a very good summer for Hawaii for us, also because we are strengthening our entire Funjet organization to be much more focused on Hawaii. I think another thing that we are seeing right now is that people are actually booking a little bit further out than they were last year and certainly the years before that. I'm not sure exactly what the reason is, if they are worrying about fuel going up like crazy or what it is, but it seems like they are booking a little bit further out now for the summer.

TW: With the cost of oil increasing, there's been a lot of news lately about rising airfares. Is Funjet creating promotions and packages to offset some of that expense?

We always look to come up with the best value proposition for our clients. It's not only Hawaii that's going to be feeling the impact of the fuel increases. It's not only the airfares, but when fuel goes up a lot, it affects people's overall cost of living. It's very important for us to take that into consideration. We are working very closely with our hotel partners in Hawaii and our car rental partners to come up with not only the best price but the very best value proposition and something that people will find very attractive. Even if we have a little bit higher air component, maybe we can offset it with some other promotion with our hotel and car partners.

TW: Any concern that a higher cost of oil will slow down the recovery we're seeing now across the travel industry?

I think there is definitely a concern, especially since it's such an unknown where it can go. If I remember correctly, a couple of years ago fuel was much higher than it is now, and you're right, it certainly had a strong effect. And if it goes that high again, there is no doubt it will have an effect.

TW: What sets Funjet family packages to Hawaii apart from those of your competitors?

Girls with leis in HawaiiKaae:
I think in normal terms, the family packages are not so much different than other companies' packages, but I think where we really have something unique is in what we offer in terms of service and we offer in terms of cancellation policies. It's something called the Complete Coverage, and [it's an insurance plan that] gives the traveler the right to cancel or change or whatever without any penalty. And especially for the family traveler, I think that's something that is very important, because you never know what is happening with the kids. They get sick or whatever happens. So this gives the traveler full confidence that they can book now, and if something should happen later, they can always cancel later without giving any reason -- no doctor's note, so to speak.

In addition to that, Funjet has service on the ground in Hawaii, obviously, but we also have a [toll-free] number that gives service 24/7/365, and obviously that is something that gives the family traveler great peace of mind. We also have exclusive hotel deals that we work out with our partners out there on a frequent basis. We certainly offer everything that the hotels offer in terms of kids' promotions and whatnot. And we are working on coming up with a new twist to that, which will be very unique to Funjet Vacations.

TW: Any specifics about that twist?
I can't let that out of the bag right now.

TW: How is the Hawaii family market doing compared with other Funjet destinations popular for traveling families?

I think that what we've seen now certainly this year is that Hawaii's growth in our family market is stronger than the other ones. We are seeing good growth in good family markets like Florida and California and also Mexico. But Hawaii is definitely the stronger in class as we see it right now.

TW: Any reason for that?

For Hawaii, I think it depends on what part of the country you are in. For the West Coast, it's a pretty natural destination to go to. But it's also always been a destination that everybody wants to go to at least once. I also think that from at least a couple years back there is far better air service right now. That has certainly helped. Maybe people that wanted to go in the past and couldn't because there was no air available, or the prices were too high, have now seen that they can go to Hawaii.

TW: You've mentioned Funjet will be putting more emphasis on Hawaii. Why is that important?

Kids on a surfboard in HawaiiKaae:
It's important for us for many reasons. One is that we are very, very strong in Mexico and the Caribbean, but we'd like to become stronger in Hawaii and also have a stronger presence on the West Coast of the U.S. ...We have allocated a lot more of our resources to Hawaii internally, and we've also hired additional sales reps, especially on the West Coast specifically. ... Funjet is certainly putting much more emphasis on Hawaii and working on some new programs, not only for the consumer but also for the travel agents who support Funjet and Funjet's business to Hawaii. That is coming soon.

TW: What advice might you give agents looking to increase their family business to Hawaii?

Not only for family business, but all business to Hawaii, I think the key is to really know the product. When I say that, I don't only mean the hotels and what the offers are, or what the specials and all the value-addeds are, but also really get to know the differences between the Islands, because they are so uniquely different and offer such a variety of things to do. And if they can really become experts and really get the knowledge, I think they can better advise the clients, and the clients will be more comfortable booking with that particular travel agent. And that includes what there is to do. As you know, there are things you can only do in Maui, there are things you can only do on the Big Island and so on and so forth. Obviously, one way to get to know that is to go there and experience that firsthand. If not, I recommend they use the tools that the [Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau] has at their website. It has tremendous destination information and training and all kinds of stuff. I would certainly recommend that they use that tool as much as possible. The bottom line is that the more the travel agent knows, the more they can sell Hawaii and the more they can increase their business to Hawaii.

Another thing I want to certainly urge travel agents to do is not only book activities in advance but also try to get the consumer to buy higher room categories, because the tendency is that when people book the higher categories, they also get more value-added features included. At the end of the day, it really doesn't cost them any more, but it gives them a far better experience, and they come back happier, too.
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