Travel agents keen to visit the Hawaiian Islands may want to get busy completing the online programs required for the Master Specialist designation. The accreditation enables travel pros to qualify for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau's (HVCB) series of island-specific fam tours, which are typically run in partnership with U.S. mainland-based wholesalers or consortia groups.
"Each island chapter conducts their own Master Specialist program," said Robyn Basso, the HVCB's senior director of travel industry partnerships. "Typically, it's five days, but Maui will do seven because it encompasses Maui, Molokai and Lanai."
According to Basso, the HVCB has worked in the past with wholesale companies such as Travel Impressions and Blue Sky Tours along with consortia groups like Virtuoso, the National Association of Career Travel Agents (Nacta) and Travel Leaders.
"I think there's nothing more powerful than bringing agents to the destination and having them have that firsthand experience," she said.
"And we really focus on providing the agents with a true understanding of the unique activities and personality of each island," Basso added. "Of course, there will be some hotel site inspections, but it's really about walking away with a true appreciation of what the island has to offer and what type of client would be a great match for that particular destination."
Master Specialists who've joined HVCB partnership fams in the past have really enjoyed the extensive activity time, Basso said.
"We've received such incredible feedback from agents," she said. "They might go ziplining or do a cultural hike or snorkeling or whale-watching or go to see the volcano. It's truly about those unique destination experiences you can't have anywhere else in the world, [so] the agents have that credibility in front of their clients because they've experienced these activities firsthand."
Basso noted that in addition to the Master Specialist fams, agents might want to think about heading to the Islands for upcoming Nacta and ASTA events. Running Nov. 8 through 12 this year, Nacta is holding its annual conference at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii's western coast.
"It's going to be an incredible program with seminars, roundtables, a trade show and also some great destination experiences," Basso said. "So we're really, really excited. We've already got record-breaking numbers coming in for that event."
Basso added that the ASTA Maui Expo is scheduled for May 11 to 15 and will be held at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa Kaanapali.
"That's going to be an event truly focused on the destination, education and experiences," she said, adding that there are still pre- and post-fam options available for the event. "It will be an incredible opportunity for agents to also come and experience Maui firsthand."
Travel agents interested in arranging their own visits to the Islands may want to consider April and May, the official Mahalo Month period organized by the Hawaii Tourism Authority that features a range of discounts for travel pros from visitor industry stakeholders such as hoteliers, airlines, activity providers and car rental companies.
"That is a great opportunity for agents to create their own, self-guided experience by booking individual components," Basso said. "Our partners really come to the table with some compelling offers during those months."