The Hawaii Visitors and Conventions Bureau (HVCB) named Karen Hughes its new vice president of Meet Hawaii and travel industry partnerships in late May of this year, looking to take advantage of the longtime Starwood exec’s extensive sales and marketing background but also landing a former tour wholesaler who actually got her start in the industry as a travel agent.
“That gives me a really clear appreciation for what travel agents do and those personal relationships they have with their customers,” Hughes told me recently. “In this day and age, agents need to be well armed with information, more than what their customers can get themselves on the Internet.”
Heading up HVCB sales efforts for both the leisure travel trade and for meetings, conventions and incentives (MCI), Hughes is currently working with her team to refine the organization’s agent education and training programs.
“We’re looking at our website,” she said. “And we’re looking at our training curriculum [and] the content of all those programs to make sure it’s updated and relevant.”
Although that refinement process is still in its early stages, Hughes said the goal is to offer agents more comprehensive information about the Hawaiian Islands, providing them with a competitive advantage.
“For a destination like Hawaii that is fairly complex and upscale, I think agents that have focused their efforts on the more complex vacation are doing very well,” Hughes said. “They need to stay ahead of their consumers, which is really difficult given the
Internet and all the information you can find there, but if they can stay highly informed on a few destinations they sell a lot, then I think they will continue to thrive.”
Prior to her new role with the HVCB, Hughes spent six years in New York, working as Starwood’s vice president of global leisure sales and distribution, but she’d called Hawaii home for 15 years before her move to the Empire State.
“My previous time spent in Hawaii was a joy, and I missed it,” she said. “I loved the culture and working with the people of the Islands and consider this my second home, so it’s great to be back.”
Hughes stressed that capitalizing on the Aloha State’s unique appeal is a major part of Meet Hawaii’s refocused approach to attracting more MCI business to the Islands.
“Our goal is to really get the message out about why meeting in Hawaii lends itself to creative thinking because you’re not in the mad rush of a downtown location, where you’ve got a million sensory overloads coming at you at once,” she explained. “In Hawaii, you’re in a setting that inspires you to think more clearly, so you can take advantage of the leisure component of Hawaii to make a meeting really successful.”
The HVCB recently launched a monthlong saturation campaign in the Chicago area that will include a combination of print, online and TV advertising; public relations efforts; and travel trade events. According to Hughes, the bureau will partner with a number of tour wholesalers to offer Hawaii-specific agent training and education events in the region throughout September.
For more information about those events, or to learn about upcoming training opportunities elsewhere on the U.S. mainland, visit www.agents.gohawaii.com