As the pandemic shut down Hawaii tourism this summer, Outrigger Hospitality kept busy by revamping its travel advisor program and preparing its properties for the return of visitors to the Islands, which industry players are hopeful will happen with the launch of the state's pretravel testing program on Oct. 15.
The relaunched advisor program puts more information into the hands of advisors and creates more incentive options at a time when everyone tied to the hospitality industry is looking to jump-start activity.
What was once the Outrigger Expert Agent program is now the Outrigger Expert Advisor program, but the changes go much deeper than a new name.
On Aug. 1, the company rolled out four new education modules and immediately saw interest from its network advisors. It plans to add more in the coming months.
"We've seen incredible results," said Chris Riccardi, Outrigger Hospitality senior vice president of global sales. "After the first month, the amount of people coming to our website is up 100%."
The changes also include upgrades of the website, putting more tools at agents' disposal.
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"We set up advisors councils, and one piece of feedback we got from advisors is they wanted more resources," Riccardi said. "So we set up a one-stop shop on the site where they can find anything they need."
That includes video tours of properties, images, brochures and flyers that can be edited to include the advisor's information and logo.
"It's a completely refreshed program," Riccardi said. "We changed everything, but one of the biggest things was the reward system and earning points toward complimentary room nights. We want advisors to experience our hotels -- we want them to touch them, feel them, because that helps them sell it. The travel advisors are an extension of us, and we need to give them the sales tools they need to sell Outrigger to their customers."
The enhanced rewards program enables advisors to earn reward points for use toward a stay at select Outrigger properties in Hawaii, Fiji, and Mauritius. Additionally, new and current advisors earn a bonus of 500 reward points for completing the new Outrigger Expert Advisor certification course as well as extra reward points for completing each of the four new education modules to expand upon their brand knowledge.
Advisors participating in the new program also benefit from a complimentary welcome amenity for their clients on the advisor's behalf with qualified bookings of three or more nights, promotional offers only offered via advisors (such as complimentary upgrades in Waikiki properties), special reward point offers and exclusive advisor room rate discounts at all Outrigger properties globally.
Loretta Sedghi, an advisor for California-based agency TravelStore HQ, has used the slow period during the pandemic to work on education programs like Outrigger's and has finished all of the modules and received her Outrigger Expert Advisor certification.
"They've made it very convenient to get information on the properties and destinations and access all of the resources," she said. "There are a lot of valuable tools in there, and the modules are very easy to work through in that it's not overloaded with pages and pages of information. It's short and to the point."
Amanda Castro, an advisor in the Amherst, N.Y. branch of AAA, also gave the revamped program high marks.
"Outrigger Expert Advisor allows us to stay up to date on all things Outrigger with the What’s New What’s Hot Newsletter, so we can share important information with our clients," Castro said. "The best part of all is the opportunity to send our clients a welcome amenity to make their Outrigger stay, a stay to always remember."
As the response to the pandemic has created a morass of restrictions governing who can travel where and under what protocols, Riccardi said travel advisors have become more valuable during the pandemic.
"No matter where you are traveling these days -- Hawaii, the Bahamas, or Tahiti -- there are different rules and regulations," Riccardi said. "We're hearing one of the trends coming out of the pandemic is more people using travel advisors because there is so much more you need to know. Providing a wealth of resources for travel advisors is super-important in that regard. We want to help advisors be that resource for their clients by having all the info on our website."
In addition to the introduction of the new advisor program, Outrigger has worked to position itself for the gradual return of guests to its properties. All 635 rooms at the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort have been renovated, and public spaces are scheduled to be redone by April 1.
Outrigger Hospitality has more than 20 properties in Hawaii, and the company is preparing for the coronavirus pretravel testing program launch. Some of the company's properties stayed open during the pandemic, giving them a leg up in implementing new protocols.
"Outrigger is ready," Riccardi said. "The Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort remained open the entire time serving people like military guests, first responders and traveling nurses and doctors. We've been able to apply the Outrigger Clean Commitment generated in collaboration with EcoLab, a leader in hospitality sanitation, for guest and host safety. We've been following these safety procedures for months now at the open properties and can replicate that system as we execute staggered reopening for the remainder of the properties."
This report was updated to correct a quote from travel advisor Amanda Castro.