To be a successful sales representative in the tourism industry, Noelani Schilling-Wheeler says you need to act like a sponge and soak up all the information and advice around you.
“To those coming into the industry, I encourage you to be open and to learn from mentors all around you and not just from those above you,” she says. “I took time to listen, to absorb and to respect what these folks had to share and teach me in developing my professional growth. To my colleagues, I encourage you to take notice of those coming into our industry who have a passion for the business and to mentor them. Seeing your team and individuals develop is the best compliment of your expertise and professionalism.”
Schilling-Wheeler, senior director of sales and marketing for the Oahu Visitors Bureau, was recently named to Travel Agent's 2015 Top Supplier Sales Reps. Schilling-Wheeler won first place for the Domestic Tourist Board category. The winners were decided by votes from Travel Agent's print and online readers.
"In my humble opinion, the travel agent community is extremely important in the marketing and sales mix for a destination and for businesses in the travel industry," she says. "At the Oahu Visitors Bureau, we understand that today, that the consumer has choices and that the distribution system has evolved to allow consumers to book directly. However, we understand that the travel agent community has also evolved and plays an even stronger role within the distribution system."
Schiiling-Wheeler Grew up in Southeast Asia and usually traveled internationally at least once a year with her family.
"Thanks to my family, travel became a part of who I am and helped develop an appreciation for different types of travel, cultures, natural landscapes and experiences," she says.
She was first introduced to the School of Travel Industry Management (TIM) in 1986 when it was still a part of the College of Business at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
"After my first class in travel industry management (TIM 101), I realized that my love for travel, culture and the environment could be combined harmoniously with my business degree interests," she says. "Plus, I was in the best place to learn, Hawaii, a leader in tourism and travel industry development."
In 1991, she took her first job in hospitality at the front desk of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. She credits that role for teaching her lessons surrounding customer service and processing. She even volunteered time and worked for the director of sales and marketing at the time, doing research for planning purposes.
It was in 1997 that she first worked for the Oahu Visitors Bureau, where she was responsible for overseeing the marketing and sales direction.
"The travel agent plays a fundamental role at upselling products, options and experiences," she says. "For a destination like Hawaii that is culturally unique and enriching, is highly experiential and often viewed by the consumer as being singular (sun, sea and sand only), the agent is no longer a 'booker of travel.' They are ambassadors, consultants, an extension of the industry's sales team and (public relations) agents and communicators to the end-user. At the Oahu Visitors Bureau, they are our partners."