On Site - One-on-One With Julie Zadeh of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau

WAIKOLOA VILLAGE, Hawaii -- As part of our ongoing coverage of the third annual Hawaii Travel Exchange, Travel Agent chatted with Julie Zadeh, managing director, travel trade marketing for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau and tackled such issues of expensive airfares to the destination, a boom in multi-generational business and more.

It's been an incredible year for Hawaii. Hotel occupancy has seen some serious hikes as well as air capacity. In fact, Zadeh says air capacity has been up 12.7 percent for the fourth quarter of this year, compared to the same period last year.

"The economy has something to do with it," she says. "As the economy continues to improve, consumers realize it's a great time to travel again."

She contributes it to an increase in carriers and routes. Specifically, increased routes for Allegiant Air and Alaska Airlines has helped with the spike in capacity. The new direct flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to Honolulu, which was launched this year, has also contributed to the positive numbers as well, she says. United Airlines' new direct flight from Washington, D.C. to Honolulu, launched this year, also contributed to the increase.

"The east coast, for the first time, has become a major market for Hawaii," she says. "The added airlift we have from there has really helped the destinations do a lot more business in the last year."

But when it comes to the northeast client, how does Hawaii compete with closer warm weather destinations like the Caribbean and Mexico?

"I think Hawaii is so much more than just a sun and sand destination," she says. "We have a rich history here. We have that 'Aloha Spirit.' And that's not just lip service. It's a way of living here. Agents always tell me that as soon as they step off the plane, they feel at home."

But are rising airfare costs to Hawaii dissuading not only the northeast traveler, but clients in general?

"I've been on the road for the last few weeks and all I have heard is that airfares are actually starting to come back down a bit," she says. "There are a lot of deals out there too. Agents are telling me that the air fares are getting competitive again. But I also think agents realize that the airline industry is a very cyclical one. Airfares go up and airfares go down."

And Zadeh contends that even if airfare is expensive, hotels and operators will adapt.

"When the airfare is high, the resorts and operators know how to make it worth it," she says. "Hotels may adjust rates, perhaps add some value deals, perhaps some food and beverage credit. Basically, they know how to make it work."

As for the trendiest clientele heading to Hawaii? Zadeh, like other travel professionals we have spoken to this week, points to the multi-generational market.

"Several years ago the multi-generational market really started to build," she says. "I think it has a lot to do with the fact that baby boomers are now becoming grand parents. And that has really helped our condominium business, which has always been very big here."

And the hotels really do their part to support the multi-generational market, she says.

"They have tons of programs that cater to that type of client," says Zadeh. "They have things like Kids Stay Free programs. They make it very easy to attract this type of client."

Clients in general tend to come back to Hawaii more than once. But does that pose a challenge to agents? After all, repeat clients who have been to a destination a handful of times tend to book online.

"We recently did a major re-branding study where we basically asked, 'Does the consumer truly understand everything that Hawaii has to offer?,'" she says. " And both groups, the first time Hawaii traveler and the long-time Hawaii traveler, are really starting to realize that we have six unique island experiences and that every trip here can be different. Because of that, even repeat clients will go to an agent."

Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for more updates from the Hawaii Travel Exchange.


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