The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) plans to roll out a simultaneous relaunch of its travel agent website and a redo of its travel agent training program in January.
Karen Hughes, the HVCB's vice president of Meet Hawaii and travel industry partnerships, said once it's redone, the organization hopes that twice as many travel agents will become certified by its Ke Kula O Hawaii training program.
"We want to double that number in our new program, which will have a new name, to make it more relevant," she said, not revealing the number of certified agents in the current version.
Hughes said the reasoning behind the revamp of the program is "to keep it fresh, relevant, short and succinct."
The program will still consist of a combination of both live training and online training. The live training will take place during two to three blitzes a year in major markets on the East Coast, Hughes said.
The address of the current site, www.agents.gohawaii.com, will remain the same following the relaunch, but the content, navigation system and the look and feel of the site will be new.
The original site was developed in 2000, and the training program followed in 2002; it was last upgraded six years ago, according to Hughes.
On the road
The Hawaii team, led by Robyn Basso, senior director of travel industry sales for the HVCB, will visit key U.S. cities where they will meet with agents to conduct a series of certification programs.
The new training program content will consist of a series of seven certifications or chapters: an introduction to Hawaii, selling the Islands, traveler profiles and four separate chapters covering Kauai, Oahu, Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii.
For the first time, the live training will count toward program certification. Once completed, agents will be eligible to take the onsite master program in Hawaii, which will be an enhanced version of the current program.
"We have expanded certain information in each certification but also have eliminated and shortened some sections," Hughes said.
Each of the four main islands will participate in the onsite master classes.
"Being there and seeing Hawaii is the best way possible to then sell the destination," Hughes said.
That usually means that agents need to block out a trip of at least five days to complete the master classes in Hawaii, although Hughes said that the trips may be shortened to cover two islands in one shorter trip and two islands in another short trip.
"Hawaii is a complex destination that requires in-depth training on the part of agents. Each island has a training program unique to that island because there are so many specific differences among the islands," Hughes said.
Agents who are currently certified will not have to retake the entire training program.
"We are doing research now to see how to offer the program to agents who are now certified," she said. "We want them to have some recurring training, so we have to determine how much of a need there is for this and how much agents want it."
The new website and training program have been in the works for more than a year. New marketing materials include videos and slide shows, insider tips, use of local guides and more resource collateral, all of which can be customized for each agent.
"A destination such as Hawaii is so visually engaging, which is why the new program has top-rated videos and slides, which enhances the site and makes it that much better than just reading descriptions of the islands and attractions," Hughes said.
Slide shows also can be customized for individual clients.
For the first time, the training program can be downloaded and accessed on a smartphone, according to Hughes.
The program's webinars will all have updated content and will be more interactive and efficient.
"We cut the time down because agents are so darn busy," Hughes said. "They can be customized to reflect travel needs and interests of clients, such as romance, adventure, cuisine and historical tours of the islands."
In addition, the online resources will contain an audio segment highlighting the correct pronunciation of key Hawaiian words, "so agents will sound smart when talking to their clients," Hughes said.
Hughes, who began her career 35 years ago as a retail agent in her native Green Bay, Wis., when handwriting airline tickets was the norm, pointed out that "nowadays agents have to have a deep inside knowledge of each island in order to sell it."
"Their clients have access to a lot of knowledge before they come in to discuss a trip to Hawaii, and they also have questions, which agents have to be able to answer."
Visitors to Hawaii's consumer website at www.gohawaii.com will be able to find to a Hawaii specialist, an agent who has completed the master program.