Even with a fall slowdown coming that many anticipate will be worse than a year ago, Hawaii remains on target to hit its tourism goals for 2013, with overall year-to-date numbers reflecting nearly 5.7 million travelers and $9.96 billion in expenditures.
According to the Hawaii Tourism Association (HTA), 2.3 million visitors have come to the Islands from the western U.S. through August, a 5.6% jump from the same period in 2012, while 1.2 million have arrived from the eastern U.S., a 1.7% increase.
Hawaii's domestic visitors continue to dole out the dough for their Islands escapes, with year-to-date expenditures by travelers from the western U.S. hitting $3.3 billion through August (an 8.7% rise), while trekkers from the eastern U.S. added $2.6 billion to the pie (a jump of 7.3%).
That's especially good news for travel agents.
"Someone once told me to always make certain that the customer buys a product that provides an experience above the lifestyle they have at home, not just at the level of how they live," said Karen Hughes, vice president of travel industry partnerships and Meet Hawaii for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB). "We have so little time to take vacations. So when customers do, agents have to make sure they enjoy it."
"One of best ways that agents can help their clients have the best experience possible while earning extra commission is to presell activities," said Julie Zadeh, the HVCB's managing director of travel trade marketing. "With Hawaii's increased arrivals in 2012 and 2013, it's really important to recommend that clients let agents book activities ahead of time. It's never good to arrive and find that something is sold out."
She added that it doesn't stop there. "It's everything from upgrading their airline class to room categories," she said. "If someone is coming in for a gardenview [room], recommend that they do a partial oceanview or oceanview."
Jack Richards, Pleasant Holiday's president and CEO, agreed.
"Offer enhanced room accommodations to provide a better view and more space," he said. "Look for better flight accommodations, including nonstop service, convenient flight times, upgraded cabin classes and access to VIP lounges."
As for car rentals, Richards suggests that agents upgrade their clients to SUVs or minivans for families and convertibles or Jeeps for active couples.
While upgrades elevate commissions, they also provide greater value for clients' travel dollar without necessarily increasing the vacation investment significantly.
"Happy clients are usually repeat clients, which is the best way to increase an agent's bottom line," said Richards. "And happy clients who share their great vacations on social media can generate potential leads for their trusted travel agent."
Mark Klaschka, Pleasant's vice president and managing director of Hawaii, recommends Neighbor Island day-tripping for single-island vacationers.
"It lets them explore more of Hawaii and experience the unique personalities, terrain and sights each island has to offer," he said.
Klaschka added that although helicopter tours are among the more expensive activities at PleasantActivities.com, they provide an unforgettable experience.
"An Atlantis submarine ride is another unforgettable experience that lets travelers explore depths that nondivers would never encounter," he said.
For Charlotte Kerr, marketing manager with Blue Sky Tours, newer activities are the hot ticket.
"Since these are selling out and you may not get the day the client wants, it's very important to sell the complete package [ahead of arrival], including the tours," she said.
Among the newbies are the Hawaiian Legacy Tour and Kona Eco Adventures' ATV & Zipline Combo on the Big Island of Hawaii; luaus at Oahu's Polynesian Cultural Center and at Makena Beach & Golf Resort on Maui; and Skyline Eco-Adventures new Poipu zipline on Kauai.
Patty Parish of Source 1 Travel & Cruises in Irving, Texas, encourages her clients to book excursions as far in advance as possible, both the newest ones, like diving with sharks and jungle-type tours, and activities synonymous with Hawaii -- Pearl Harbor, luaus, catamaran trips and dinner cruises.
That foresight can pay off in spades.
"Booking their activities is a must because of the word of mouth when they come back home," said Parish. "They enjoy themselves, they trust our advice, and they keep coming back to our agents."
Alexandra Sklierenko, assistant manager and Hawaii Destination Specialist with Toronto-based Flight Centre, said that upselling is all about reading her clients.
"Some want to get from Point A to Point B in the cheapest way possible [so that they] have the money to spend in the destination," she said. "If this is the case, then I look at room upgrades, excursions, activities, travel insurance and really maximizing a client's time and experience on each island."
Sklierenko works with in-house wholesaler Gogo WorldWide Vacations. For clients lusting for luxury, she considers preferred airlines with the best departure times and class upgrades.
"Since the majority of my clients are flying out of Toronto, it's definitely worth investing that extra money for the comfort of business or first class," she said.
Much of Sklierenko's recent Hawaii business has been first-timers often unaware of their options.
"This is why I'm so glad I became a Hawaii Destination Specialist," she says. "The program armed me with the information I need to make informed recommendations based on a client's needs and make sure that I'm booking as much in advance for them as possible."
For those preferring to wing it once they arrive, Sklierenko recommends speaking with their hotel concierge.
"Hotel staffs are trained in hospitality and provide great customer service to their guests," she said.
"They also have the best interest of the clients since they want them to have a good experience at their property."
Making it memorable
Lorraine Wiggins, who owns Destinations & Beyond Travel in St. Petersburg, Fla., said selling Hawaii's culture is key.
"Hawaii sells itself," she said. "My goal is to find the best way to make it my clients' most memorable trip. And part of the experience is presenting activities to enhance the amazing islands themselves."
Wiggins said that the HVCB's Ke Kula O Hawaii program has helped her accomplish this by elevating the personal knowledge she continues to fortify when visiting the Islands.
"I had a couple traveling to Hawaii for the first time who had heard many things from friends and family, so they were somewhat confused as to what they truly wanted," she said. "This is where a good travel specialist can break it down into segments and pinpoint what their primary purpose is."
Since it was a special occasion trip, the couple splurged with a two-bedroom villa, car rental, a luau and first-class air. Wiggins also booked a tour of Pearl Harbor.
"I was able to make it as effortless as possible for them," she said.
That is exactly what the HVCB suggests agents do.
"Travel agents survive on happy clients," said the HVCB's Hughes. "We have such little time to vacation. So to take one that's not inspiring or invigorating is disappointing. That's what Hawaii does so well.
"Agents should remind their clients of that. No one comes back from a great vacation and says it was too expensive. A happy customer is the best customer."