We spoke with tour operators, Scott Wiseman, president of Travel Impressions and Dave Ferran, head of sales for Classic Vacations. And from the advisor side, we interviewed Katie Rahr Kapel of Mode Travel Agency, Inc.; Lena Brown of Largay Travel; and Danielle Stephens of Harmon Travel.
Here’s what they had to say:
Travel Agent: Are there any particular airlines that have done especially well this year as far as travel to Hawaii goes? What about any trending flying patterns/habits? Tell me some of your most frequently asked questions with regards to flights to Hawaii for 2017 and heading into 2018.
Scott Wiseman, Travel Impressions: United and Hawaiian Airlines are two airlines that have really increased their service options. Among those increased service options is nonstop service from LAX to Hilo by United, the only airline offering this option. That’s in addition to their daily nonstop flights to Honolulu from Chicago, Denver, Houston, L.A., Newark, San Francisco and Washington, DC.
People want to know about daily non-stop routes, and we’re happy to answer that Hawaiian Airlines’ non-stop daily routes will begin in 2018, from Portland to Miami, Oakland to Kauai, and Los Angeles to Kona. Southwest [Airlines] is a brand that has a significant following, and that airline’s aficionados will be delighted to hear that they will begin service to Hawaii in 2018. However, those routes have yet to be announced.
Katie Rahr Kapel, Mode Travel Agency, Inc.: United [Airlines] has been pricing out the best, connecting through Chicago or Denver from Fargo (our area), but we still book Delta [Air Lines] connections the most often since they offer the most options and since most prefer to connect through Minneapolis versus Chicago or Denver.
Dave Ferran, Classic Vacations: All major carriers are increasing service from the mainland to Hawaii. This is especially exciting as customer options will increase significantly, including more nonstop options from secondary U.S. airports to more outer island destinations.
Lena Brown, Largay Travel: I love that you can fly from the east or the west coast nonstop to Hawaii. The easier it is to get to the destination the happier the traveler is. When booking my Northeast clients, I arrange the non stop flight out of [John F. Kennedy International Airport]. They leave in the morning and are in Hawaii in time for sunset. Out of Los Angeles, there are many nonstop options for travelers. I tend to offer Hawaiian Airlines as it is comfortable and they offer pleasant service.
Travel Agent: What are some of the hottest hotel trends you’ve seen in Hawaii this year? Also, are you seeing more and more Hawaii hotels that cater to Millennials?
Katie Rahr Kapel, Mode Travel Agency, Inc.: Young honeymooners are attracted to non-chain, boutique-type resorts that offer plenty of photo opportunities for their social media. Andaz Maui has been a top seller for sure with raving reviews. This is also one of my personal favorites.
Dave Ferran, Classic Vacations: In the hotel space the commitment to upgrading and renewal is significant and will strongly impact the customer’s experience to the positive. Across the islands Hawaii is presenting a fresh, modern outlook to today’s travelers, including those residing outside the U.S.
In Honolulu, the Alohilani [Resort Waikiki Beach] has just completed a [$115] million renewal program. The new Alohilani will now be geared to a wider demographic, including Millennials.
Lena Brown, Largay Travel: On Oahu, The Kahala Hotel & Resort is the hidden gem, nestled in an upscale neighborhood next to a country club. If you want privacy, this resort makes you feel secluded and is far from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu. Yet, you are only a few minutes from a wonderful hike on Diamond Head, surfing lessons on the historical Waikiki Beach and the best upscale shopping at the International Market Place.
Scott Wiseman, Travel Impressions: We have seen a lot of interest in the properties we’ve added for 2017 as well as the newly renovated ones. For the former, standouts include the LAYLOW Waikiki, Hyatt Centric, and [The Westin Nanea Ocean Villas, Ka'anapali].
As for newly renovated properties, highlights that spring to mind are the Prince Waikiki, Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach, and Hilton Garden Inn Waikiki Beach. All of these are designed with an elegant and contemporary style that features lighter color palettes and upgraded technology for tech-heads like me.
Travel Agent: What do booking patterns to Hawaii look like in 2017 and heading into 2018? Longer? Shorter than 2016? What do you attribute the patterns to?
Scott Wiseman, Travel Impressions: The booking windows seem to be closer in lately. TI’s normal booking window for this destination used to be roughly 120 days, but we are currently between 60 – 90 days and have even seen a few within 30 days.
Katie Rahr Kapel, Mode Travel Agency, Inc.: I have seen shorter durations booked for family vacations to Hawaii this coming year. Families have less time away from sports, and finding the time to all coordinate vacation time [is more difficult]. Some are going for just five nights. Honeymoons and couples vacations have stayed about the same at seven to 10 nights. It really varies depending on budget too.
Travel Agent: What are the latest cruise trends to Hawaii? What cruise line is seeing an increase in business/popularity in 2017 and heading into 2018? Which cruises are the most popular in Hawaii?
Katie Rahr Kapel, Mode Travel Agency, Inc.: Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has this market. It seems to be Baby Boomers that request the Hawaiian cruise, but we always suggest and almost always book pre and post land stays to really experience the islands.
Lena Brown, Largay Travel: For cruising the Hawaiian Islands, Norwegian Cruise Line has the niche. Most honeymooners and young couples can't take a full two weeks to cruise to Hawaii, starting on the mainland. If you only have a week, then NCL would be your only choice. As much as cruising is a great way to see a variety of ports, it isn't necessarily the best way to experience Hawaii.
With such limited time in each port you don't have a chance to indulge in each island. I find my Millennial clients like to have some days chilling on the beach or by the pool before hitting the zip lines and hiking waterfalls.
Travel Agent: Besides the usual, have you noticed any new trends popping up in either the weddings or honeymoons department? Are there some hotels and/or destinations that were particularly popular in 2017 and heading into 2018 for weddings and/or honeymoons?
Lena Brown, Largay Travel: I have had clients want to renew their vows and Hawaii is the perfect place. Easy to get to and no red tape for weddings or vow renewals. There are several companies that offer vow renewals on the beach at a reasonable price. My clients have found they can easily persuade their family members to join them for their celebration.
Scott Wiseman, Travel Impressions: Maui and Kauai are our most popular islands for honeymoons for their romance, privacy, and that sense of being in an unhindered paradise. We are, however, seeing an interest in Oahu for bachelor/ette parties as well as girl's getaway weekends, though. This can be attributed to its more urban nightlife, with great clubs, restaurants, and lounges, that also provide the distinctly laid-back Hawaiian feel.
Danielle Stephens, Harmon Travel: I have had a lot of elopements lately to the Hawaiian islands. Maui of course is the most requested for weddings and honeymoons but then I have also noticed people trying to steer away from the crowds and go to Kauai, or [Hawaii Island].
Katie Rahr Kapel, Mode Travel Agency, Inc.: The North Shore, [specifically] Turtle Bay Resort, has gained popularity. They have surfing, snorkeling, and golf onsite – as well as more direct flights to Honolulu from various cities compared to some of the other islands. This is a great option for groups, where they still have the option to participate in nightlife in Waikiki Beach, as well as visit Pearl Harbor, the Polynesian Cultural Center, Dole Plantation, Diamond Head, and other popular tourist attractions.
The Hottest Niche Markets
Travel Agent: What was/is the hottest niche in Hawaii in 2017 and heading into 2018? Has health and wellness been as popular in 2017 as many experts predicted? If so, what are some popular destinations and/or hotels for health and wellness in Hawaii?
Katie Rahr Kapel, Mode Travel Agency, Inc.: Wellness and fitness tourism has been very popular and a great excuse to get away as a couple or as friends traveling together. Unlike an all inclusive, you have more options to pick and choose healthy choices for every meal. Yoga on the beach has also been trending and an option at most resorts at sunset or in studio.
Four Seasons, Halekulani, Andaz, and Fairmont have all kept up with fitness centers with the latest equipment, and fitness instructors available daily for classes and training.
Scott Wiseman, Travel Impressions: Health and wellness have always been popular for this destination, and I am confident they will retain their place as key focuses there. It’s hard not to feel healthy and well in such a relaxed, beautiful place, among such friendly people, dining on fresh seafood and Pacific Rim recipes.
Travel Agent: Not so much of a trend as much as it was more of an issue or an obstacle, but how has the nasty hurricane season affected business in 2017 and heading into 2018? While we try to refrain from the use of the word, “benefit,” in this scenario, has hurricane and/or Zika fears helped Hawaii business in 2017 and heading into 2018?
Dave Ferran, Classic Vacations: Yes, Hawaii has gained back marketshare from other destinations considering the challenges experienced elsewhere in the world. And paired with the strong capital improvements in the destination customers are seeing Hawaii through a new prism and are liking what they are seeing.
Scott Wiseman, Travel Impressions: We agree on the hesitation on using that phrase, but in strict reality, we have definitely seen more of an interest in Hawaii due to these issues. But interest doesn’t necessarily translate directly into bookings. Although the business is strong, we aren’t necessarily seeing a big spike in bookings, and believe this has to do with the cost when compared to an all-inclusive stay in Mexico or the Caribbean.
Lena Brown, Largay Travel: I have had a more recent interest in Hawaii from my clients. With honeymooners especially not having a concern about Zika in Hawaii. They feel comfortable and safe not having to leave the U.S. and Hawaii has an indescribable peace when you are on the islands.
Danielle Stephens, Harmon Travel: I have a lot of Millennial honeymoon clients and Zika is one of their largest concerns. In the initial consultation, they will say, "We want to go somewhere tropical and without Zika”. I pull up the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) map to show them what places are on that list and close by. There are only a couple tropical islands listed as Zika free, including Hawaii. It automatically makes Hawaii a top choice and generally 95 percent of my Zika-concerned clients choose Hawaii for their honeymoon.
Travel Agent: What are some other trends (that I haven’t mentioned above) that you’ve seen in Hawaii this year? What are some tips on capitalizing on this trend(s)?
Katie Rahr Kapel, Mode Travel Agency, Inc.: Multi-generational vacations and retirement celebrations have really gotten big. Groups of Baby Boomers traveling together to celebrate retirement or couples traveling alone that have always dreamed of Hawaii. Birthday "Bucket List" vacations and once-in-a-lifetime Hawaiian honeymoons [are also popular].
Scott Wiseman, Travel Impressions: We have been seeing a lot of interest in adventure tours, activities that go off the beaten path like private tours or private car rentals. A lot of customers want to explore on their own to have the most authentic Hawaiian experience, which is why on a lot of our sample pricing, we tend to include rental cars in the packages. We also have a long list of excursions and tours that can supplement any booking easily, thanks to our partnership with Worldstar. We encourage agents to use Quest to add these to every booking for added earnings for them and extra adventures for their clients.