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Big Island Family Travel

August 25, 2011 By: Deanna Ting


Hiking is an adventurous—and educational—selling point for families who travel to Hawaii Island, says Tanzman. // © 2011 Hawaii Tourism Authority/ Kirk Lee Aeder

While many travel agents are familiar with Hawaii, there’s more to selling these islands than many agents are aware of, says Susan D. Tanzman, president and owner of Los Angeles-based Martin’s Travel and Tours and a Condé Nast Traveler-recommended Hawaii travel specialist.

“I think people are missing out on an opportunity here,” said Tanzman. “There are such incredible deals to Hawaii right now. Travel agents have an opportunity to really sell this destination if they just give people more of an experience. Even for repeat customers, there are more experiences than ever before to be found.”

I’m apt to agree with her. Having traveled to Hawaii many times before, I know firsthand what a wonderful destination it can be for travelers who seek all different kinds of experiences, from adventurous and relaxing to educational and epicurean.

While many industry experts assumed that travel to Hawaii would not do well this year because of increased airfares and decreased flight availability, Tanzman said that higher airfares have had the opposite effect.

“Airfare has been a disaster, pricewise, so hotels and tour operators have had to compensate, making Hawaii a much easier sell,” Tanzman said. “Not only that, but we’ll see that airfare really drops in the fourth quarter, so this fall season is a fantastic time for clients to go to Hawaii.”

Travel agent Susan D. Tanzman specializes in selling travel to Hawaii and has done so for more than 20 years. // © 2011 Susan D. Tanzman

In particular, Tanzman noted, Hawaii is an ideal location for families.

“There is probably nowhere in Hawaii that isn’t family friendly, except for a couple of hotels,” she said. “The Hawaiian culture itself is just so family friendly. For instance, you can even go to a gourmet restaurant and bring a small child with you, and the servers wouldn’t even hesitate.”

Of particular note, Tanzman said, is the Big Island, which is now officially referred to as Hawaii Island.

“The Big Island is so great because you have some real opportunities for education,” she said. “Families can go to coffee farms, orchid farms and even a vanilla or cacao farm and learn about these different crops.” Tanzman continued, “There’s so much history, too. They can go to a heiau (sacred Hawaiian place) to learn about King Kamehameha, the first king of Hawaii who united all of the islands.”

To really be able to create a memorable Hawaii Island family vacation experience for your clients, Tanzman recommended the following tips and attractions:

1. Don’t forget that more and more clients are seeking out experiences.

“Travelers nowadays want experiences more than anything else. They don’t just want to lie on the beach,” she said.

2. Consider all members of the family, from the little ones to the grandparents.

“More and more travelers are booking multigenerational trips,” said Tanzman. George Applegate, the executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau, agrees. “[Multigenerational travel] works for the families on many levels: the grandparents don’t miss out on the fun memories, like their grandson’s first snorkeling experience, or helping the granddaughter learn to say the name of our state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapuaa.”

3. Don’t forget about Hawaii’s culture and its unique history.

“Often, we forget that there are so many cultural things to do in Hawaii,” said Tanzman. “Travel agents tend to forget that. Agents take Hawaii for granted too often; they’re not doing their homework. They don’t know about King Kamehameha. They don’t know about the islands’ history. They don’t know about the educational aspect of a Hawaii vacation, which is a key family travel selling point. Those are the things that I think are important.”

4. Hawaii Island is filled with opportunities for adventure—and education.

“You have so much in that island—it’s overwhelming,” Tanzman said. “When I do a tip sheet, my tip sheet is about 20 to 30 pages long on that island alone.”

Hiking: “Some of the best hiking is there,” said Tanzman. Having been on a few hikes myself with Hawaii Forest & Trail, I concur with her assessment. The views—and the experience—are breathtaking.

Mountain Kayaking: This year, the Kohala Ditch reopened following the 2006 earthquake that left the 22.5-mile irrigation system of tunnels, flumes and ditches unsafe for travelers who used to ride down the flume with inner tubes. Tour operator Kohala Ditch Adventures offers mountain kayaking tours.


Hawaii Island is an ideal locale for family vacations for children of all ages. // © 2011 Hilton Waikoloa Village

Swim with Dolphins: Tanzman mentioned Dolphin Quest at Hilton Waikoloa Village as an ideal family travel activity. Dolphin Quest allows guests to swim with dolphins while educating them about marine life.

Volcanoes: Tanzman recommended that agents encourage their clients to stay at least two nights at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park “to really experience the volcano with the kids.”  She also mentioned that Lava Ocean Adventures can even take clients out onto the ocean to see fresh lava flowing out into the sea from the volcano. “You’re talking about teaching kids geography and the history of a culture,” she said.

Whale Watching: From November to April, clients can spot humpback whales off the shores of Hawaii Island and Maui, too.

Ziplining: Big Island Eco Adventures gives families a unique—and fun—way to explore the island’s Northern Kohala Forest.

5. Hawaii is as expensive as your clients want it to be.

“There’s such a huge range of properties, from five-star properties to condos,” said Tanzman. “There are some that are right on the water that are just beautiful. From my perspective, you have every price range available. That makes the Big Island, and Hawaii in general, so wonderful in terms of offering deals for families.”

“Shopping can also be very reasonable,” she added. “Costco is there for stocking up on supplies.”

She added, “On the West Coast, many travelers are so used to low airfare and they are getting frightened by the high airfares we’re seeing right now. But incentives have been thrown in by hoteliers and rental car operators and wholesalers to make it more feasible. Hawaii really can be a beautiful, inexpensive place for a family, depending on your budget.”

6. It’s not that hard to get to Hawaii Island.

While airfares have gone up, the ability to fly into Hilo (on the eastern side of the island) and Kona (on the western side of the island) has gotten much easier.

“Travelers can now fly into Hilo and out of Kona, or vice versa,” said Applegate. “This is a really great plan, because Hawaii Island is so large and the driving times between the east side, where we have Hilo, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo, Imiloa Astronomy Center, etc., is about two to three hours away from the west side, where you’ll find the Kohala Coast resorts and white-sand beaches, historic Kailua Village, Kealakekua Marine Life Conservation District, the manta ray night diving/snorkeling activities and other numerous charms of West Hawaii.”

Applegate added, “By flying into Hilo on the new nonstop United/Continental flight and out of Kona, families don’t have to spend their valuable vacation time back-tracking in the car. It’s truly a wonderful option. “

7. Give your clients enough time to really experience the island. “You have a lot of areas to show and every area is completely different on the Big Island,” she said. “You can’t even see it all in a week, but everything can be done so easily there. It’s just so very family oriented.”


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By Deanna Ting | August 25, 2011
Travel Agent Central talks to Hawaii travel specialist Susan D. Tanzman to get the scoop on sending families to Hawaii Island.