The singular value Hawaii’s people and culture can add to an Aloha State vacation was a persistent theme throughout the 18th annual Travel Weekly Hawaii Leadership Forum, held last week at the Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort in Waikiki.
Drawing more than 250 Hawaii tourism industry stakeholders, including hoteliers, tour operators, airline executives, travel marketers and state tourism officials, the event kicked off this year with an opening address from Hawaii Gov. David Ige, who said the state’s aging airports are an important issue for his administration.
“We are prepared to spend more than $1 billion in upgrading our airports because we do know that is the gateway and first impression our guests have of Hawaii,” Ige explained, adding that he’s been working both on the state and federal level to add a second international entry point at the Kona Airport on the Big Island of Hawaii.
But the governor also discussed the uncommon connection existing between Hawaii’s residents and so many of the more than 8 million visitors who travel to the destination each year.
“The quality of life here in Hawaii is a direct reflection and extension of the quality of life that our visitors and guests experience,” he said. “The more we can work together and recognize that there is a symbiotic relationship between guests and residents, I think the more successful we can be.”
During a later panel discussion featuring executives from several of Hawaii’s major wholesale companies, moderated by Arnie Weissmann, Travel Weekly editor in chief, and Steve Loucks, chief communications officer at Travel Leaders Group, the unique impact Hawaii’s people can have on a vacation in the Islands was championed frequently.
“The aloha spirit cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world,” said Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays. “That is a key draw. I listen to customers, and they tell me all the time that one of the reasons [they come to Hawaii] is the aloha spirit and the people.”
David Hu, president of Classic Vacations, added that an educated travel agent, who is well informed about the distinctive value Hawaii’s culture, experiences and people can add to a visit, is critical to selling the destination.
“We bring agents out here all the time to get them educated on the latest product, the latest activities and the latest experiences,” he said. “So they can go back to whatever segment they’re talking to [and] be sure the value that is Hawaii is being sold.”
David Kolner, Virtuoso’s senior vice president of consumer strategy, who presented a morning keynote on trends to watch in the luxury leisure travel market, offered more good news for experienced travel professionals, saying his company’s research points to a growing resurgence in popularity for travel agents overall.
“I am really excited to stay I think the travel adviser is back [and] really becoming almost a celebrity, as a recent Forbes article pointed out,” Kolner explained, noting that his company has tracked more than 6 billion Virtuoso media impressions in the last year alone, up from 1 billion a couple years prior.
Kolner added that he believes more young people are entering the travel agent profession today, citing a shift in demographics over the past couple of years at Virtuoso’s annual Las Vegas event. He pointed to factors such as a lack of jobs for young people entering the workforce, the millennial generation’s attraction to social media and starting their own businesses as well as their appetite for experience-based travel, which is so often best facilitated by a travel agent, as just a few of the dynamics making the profession appealing for the 22-to-32 age group.
“I do actually think that millennials are going to save the travel agent,” he said. “I think the millennials are the life raft for the adviser channel and the resurgence of it, [and] we see an incredible number of people joining the industry.”