Inside the Hawaii Destination Specialist Program

If you sell Hawaii, you know it can be both an easy and a complicated sell. 

“Just mention the name ‘Hawaii’ and eyes light up. At the same time, it’s a very complicated destination. Each island is unique, the history, culture and heritage are like nowhere else. It’s easy to get people to come here, but it’s not a slam dunk,” Karen Hughes tells Travel Agent

Hughes is vice president, Meet Hawaii and travel industry partnerships for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. In that role, she’s just overseen the launch of a new and improved travel agent resource center ( and Hawaii Destination Specialist training program. 

“Before I moved to Hawaii over 20 years ago, I used to sell it as an agent. I really thought I knew Hawaii. But there are so many aspects about the islands that take a while to discover. So many little-known and uncommon facts. We made a point to look for things that clients tell us are unique and special about Hawaii,” said Hughes.  

What does Hughes herself consider to be a unique and special aspect of Hawaii? 

The booming agritourism movement, for one thing. 

“Hawaii is the perfect destination to experience the ever-growing popularity of agritourism,” said Hughes. With a year-round growing season, agriculture being such a large part of day-to-day life in Hawaii and the healthy nature of our islands, it is a natural fit. Health and wellness is a growing trend and people tend to care more and more about how they are treating their body and mind. The farm to table concept has been part of the culinary and wellness scene in Hawaii for years and it is great to see it expanding.

Linda Dancer is a Hawaii Master Destination Specialist with Honeymoons, Inc. in Buford, GA. She’s seen the interest in agritourism expand in the two decades she’s been selling Hawaii.

“So many clients today are foodies and they love taking agritours on Hawaii,” said Dancer. Client favorites include Hawaiian Vanilla Company on Hawaii Island and Matthew Gray’s Hawaii Food Tours on Oahu

Not to be outdone, hotels have also seized upon the popularity of agritourism. 

Waikiki's Pacific Beach Hotel, for example, has launched its own twice-weekly farmers market. Located at the corner of Kalakaua and Liluokalani Avenues, it features 20 local vendors. Hotel guests and strolling tourists can sample and buy everything from fresh pineapple and asparagus to coffee, local honey, sausages and hand-crafted beer. 

And Starwood Hotels & Resorts Hawaii has introduced a twist on the Farm-to-Table movement. Their “Table to Farm” experience brings farm fresh ingredients to the dinner table on a Friday night. On Saturday, hotel chefs host an excursion to the featured farm. Not only will guests discover where their food came from, they enjoy a cooking demonstration and a picnic lunch. 

“The inspiration for it was to educate guests so they could know and see why chefs use local produce, fish, and meat. My vision and inspiration was also to showcase who the true stars of the food world are and that is the farmers,” Sheraton Waikiki senior executive sous chef Colin Hazama tells Travel Agent. 

The Table to Farm program launched in December 2014 at Sheraton Maui, in conjunction with Maui Dragon Fruit Farm. On Waikiki a six-series event will highlight Nalo Farms, Shinsato Farms and Twin Bridge Farms at the Sheraton Waikiki. At Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa, events will feature the Wailea Agriculture Group from Hilo and Kona Cold Lobsters

The series will continue through 2016.