Hawaii Volcanoes National ParkIf you've never been to Hawaii and don't know much about the place, the destination can be a little confusing. The fact that Hawaii is actually a chain of islands still surprises some folks, and trying to understand what's on those different islands can be downright bewildering.

Last year the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB), the state's North American marketing organization, rolled out new advertising and branding designed, in part, to help alleviate some of the confusion about Hawaii's six visitor-friendly islands and help consumers get a better sense of their diversity.

"A lot of people thought 'Big Island' meant big city, big buildings, Waikiki," said Jay Talwar, senior vice president of marketing for the HVCB, referring to extensive market research his organization completed last year. "So there was certainly some confusion."

The Big Island is actually a nickname for Hawaii Island, which is the largest in the state and a place where you won't find big cities, big buildings or Waikiki. It is home to Kilauea, an active volcano, and if the conditions are right, all sorts of opportunities to see molten lava. The Big Island offers travelers a great deal more than that, and the HVCB made a concerted effort in 2011 to begin showcasing those highlights, along with the enormous variety available on the rest of the Hawaiian Islands, through its new marketing campaign.

"This also helps us with those that have been to Hawaii before and may think 'been there, done that,'" Talwar said. "If they've only been to one island, this really helps add dimension to the destination. ... And it gives agents an opportunity to position the product to show that their clients may not have had all the experiences available to them in Hawaii."

Jay TalwarThe HVCB's overall marketing budget is $26 million this year, and Talwar said the organization will spend "significantly more than last year" on its 2012 national media campaign. The HVCB has already agreed to an extensive advertising and programming deal with both the Travel Channel and Home & Garden TV, and Hawaii commercials, featuring the destination's new branding and island diversity messages, will begin on both networks this week.

Expanding expertise

Looking to help agents capitalize on these efforts to increase understanding about each of the Hawaiian Islands, the HVCB updated its Web-based Ke Kula O Hawaii training program and all of its island-specific courses last year, refreshing the online education content to reflect results of the new branding research.

According to Julie Zadeh, the HVCB's managing director of travel trade marketing, travel pros can also download a range of updated images, fliers and video vignettes at www.agents.gohawaii.com and make use of a new island-differentiation tool that's been receiving a great deal of positive feedback.

HVCB Maui ad"Basically it's a one-page questionnaire that agents can use or give to their clients to help match visitors to their perfect island experience," Zadeh explained. "This will help to ensure that clients share what is most important for their vacation experience and help an agent match them to the right island to visit."

For Susan Bluhm, the president of Stellar Travel in Bellevue, Wash., the island-specific information available on the HVCB's agent site makes it much easier to provide detailed Hawaiian itineraries and generate in-house marketing for the destinations.

"We use a lot of images, text and even some video that has been made available," she said. "The images are beautiful, and they're so easy to work with. You can sort by activity, by island, and find just what you need."

Zadeh's travel trade sales team will also be holding a series of agent events Jan. 24 through Feb. 3 during the HVCB's 10-city West Coast road show, kicking off in Vancouver and finishing up in San Diego.

"We're working with the travel agent community, as well as through the wholesalers, to really provide education on what the greatest, latest packages to Hawaii are," Talwar said of the events. "There's some product knowledge included, but it's really focused on the promotional side of product sales and helping the travel agents convert business to Hawaii in the short term."

The HVCB has scheduled an East Coast travel trade road show in April in Philadelphia; Paterson, N.J.; and New York's Long Island, along with another two-week West Coast tour in September.

Agents interested in attending should call (808) 924-0271.

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