Although Waikiki is Hawaii’s most popular visitor attraction and has enjoyed soaring hotel occupancy in recent years, the island of Oahu is still often seen as a destination with only a couple of must-visit highlights.
“People’s interpretation of Oahu is commonly ‘We fly in, we stay for a day, we go pay our respects at Pearl Harbor, we catch a luau at PCC [the Polynesian Culture Center] and then we fly off to Maui for a week,’” said Kainoa Daines, the director of sales for the Oahu Visitors Bureau.
“My family is from Maui,” he continued with a laugh. “So by all means go knock yourself out, but how about a few extra days with us here on Oahu, too?”
This month, Daines, who is also the cultural adviser for the Hawaii Visitors and Conventions Bureau (HVCB), helped lead a culture- and history-focused fam tour of Oahu for several U.S.-based travel agents in partnership with Blue Sky Tours, hoping to expose the travel pros to the often-overlooked but rich facet of the island.
The five-day fam included visits to the Bishop Museum, Iolani Palace, Waimea Valley on the North Shore, some time with professional surfers at the Vans World Cup of Surfing event at Sunset Beach, and even a chance to work in a loi, or traditional taro patch, at the Papahana Kuaolo nonprofit on the island’s windward side.
“This was the most fun, most educational fam I’ve ever been on,” said Tracy Lehmann, a manager at Brazos Country Travel in Brenham, Texas, who said she was already working on a Turtle Bay Resort booking with a wedding couple using her newly acquired North Shore knowledge.
“It was truly a culture and history lesson,” Lehmann said, noting that her time at Iolani Palace and the Bishop Museum, learning more about the Hawaiian people and their traditions, really stood out. “You can read things like this in a book, but when you actually experience it, it just puts it into a new light.”
Lehmann, who had only visited Hawaii once before the Blue Sky fam this month, said she thinks informing clients about Oahu’s historical and cultural attractions, such as the Bishop Museum and Iolani Palace, along with explaining the North Shore’s natural beauty and escape-from-Waikiki vibe, may help increase her Hawaii business.
She also believes the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing events, held each fall during the North Shore’s big wave season, could help her interest a younger market in Oahu vacations.
“I think they would be a great seller,” she said of the pro surfing contests, “especially for the younger generations who grew up on a surfboard or maybe BMX biking — those extreme sport kids who’ve maybe grown up now [and] want to be around it again.”
For longtime Hawaii seller Aggie Lewis, the owner of Aggie’s Travel in Oak Lawn, Ill., visiting the Bishop Museum for the first time also made quite an impression.
“Iolani Palace is amazing, and I’d seen it before on an earlier visit, but I loved the Bishop Museum,” she explained. “They’ve got info about the kings and queens, the wildlife, it just brought everything together, and they’ve done a fabulous job.”
Lewis said she’ll be looking to extend her clients’ Oahu stays in the future based on her experience during the recent fam.
“Many of my clients want to see Pearl Harbor and that’s about it,” she said. “But I’m going to tell them to spend a couple more days and go over to the North Shore and visit the Bishop Museum.”
“Once you get out of Waikiki and go over to Kualoa Ranch [on windward Oahu], or you go to the North Shore and Waimea Valley, Oahu has a wonderful outer island feel that’s just not what people imagine Oahu to be — it’s beautiful,” she explained.
For agents unable to fly out to Oahu in the near future, Daines noted that the HVCB has been working hard to overhaul its online training program for travel professionals and indicated the new version could debut as early as this month.
The revised master specialist program, called Ke Kula O Hawaii, will feature more cultural and historical information, according to Daines, and include more imagery, interactive elements, even an audio Hawaiian language component to help with place name pronunciation, and have coursework dedicated to each of the state’s six visitor-friendly islands.