The Hottest Hawaiian Islands
Not surprisingly, the two hottest islands for Classic Vacations in 2016 and so far in 2017 have been Oahu and Maui, says Hu. Specifically, Maui is hot because it makes a great fit for just about any kind of vacation from multigenerational travel to girls’ getaways to couples retreats.
“Maui is an ideal place for nearly everyone – couples, families/multi-generation, girlfriend getaways or even those adventurers,” says Hu. “Consumers can get two different experiences when staying at the Kaanapali or Wailea resort areas.”
Meanwhile, Oahu’s main draw is it robust culinary scene, especially in the destination’s Chinatown district. Some of Oahu’s more popular dining spots include The Pig and The Lady and Lucky Belly, which serves up Vietnamese fusions cuisine.
But while Maui often attracts seasoned Hawaii travelers, Oahu is for the client who is just getting his or her feet wet in Hawaii travel.
“Oahu is for first timers—we have a few new properties on Oahu such as the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina and also Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa on the west side of the island for those that want an escape from Waikiki, while still within driving distance to everything,” says Hu. “We also have a new property, The Laylow, Autograph Collection for those Millennials looking for some Hawaiian vintage charm with blends of midcentury modernism.”
As Hu mentioned, one of the hottest new hotels in Hawaii is The Laylow, a member of the Autograph Collection Hotels, which recently opened its doors following an extensive $60 million renovation.
Located on the island of Oahu, The Laylow joins a portfolio of more than 100 independent hotels around the world. Set on the revitalized Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki, the hotel has 251 rooms.
So, what are some other hot Hawaiian hotels that Hu recommends advisors keep an eye on?
Hu says Hotel Wailea Relais & Chateaux, which has 72 suites with chic beach-house decor, is hot amongst honeymooners, while the all-suite Fairmont Kea Lani Maui remains hot with couples in general.
Hu also mentioned the newly renovated Wailea Beach Resort Marriott Maui, which has a beautiful infinity pool with gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean where families can enjoy brand new waterslides.
“Other hot properties to mention are Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows; Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Autograph Collection; Four Seasons Resort Lanai, and Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina,” says Hu.
Zika Has Had “Minimal Impact” on Destination
“Zika has had minimal impact to Hawaii,” says Hu. “If anything, it might have shifted some demand away from Caribbean/Mexico destinations to a known quantity, such as Hawaii.”
The Issue of Airbnb
Whereas most destinations have now embraced the Airbnb phenomenon, Hawaiian tour operators are still struggling with how to handle this new presence in the industry.
“Airbnb is becoming more of an issue for the property management companies,” says Hu. “Today’s owners have choices which causes barriers to all of us since those purchasing an Airbnb vacation may not have the same full service experience as going through a tour operator who sells through the management companies.”
To compete, however, Hu told Travel Agent that Classic is exploring ideas to offer additional inventory.
“Having said this, this trend is not abating and as operators, we need to find a way to play in this burgeoning market. Consumers are being trained to look at not only hotel inventory, but also private home inventory," he says. "To compete in this space, we are exploring various ideas of offering additional inventory from our sister company HomeAway.”
The luxury hotel developments by billionaire Larry Ellison are already drawing major interest to Lanai from affluent travelers. The island, which is owned by Ellison, closed all of its resorts in 2015, except the 11-room Hotel Lanai. Today, the island is home to two Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts properties.
“[Four Seasons is] very visible within the social media world and the team has done an amazing job with the product,” says Hu. “We offer the product and encourage people to consider the hotel if they are interested in having a different and new experience.”
Following a multimillion-dollar transformation, the former Four Seasons at Manele Bay re-opened last year as the Four Seasons Resort Lanai and has been drawing major attention. It offers guests an escape on their own 90,000-acre secluded Hawaiian island nine miles across the Pacific from Maui. The Four Seasons Resort Lanai got even swankier in October with its new Specialty Suites, a collection of one-, two- and three-bedroom accommodations that include exclusive services and amenities.
Lanai, The Lodge at Koele, which was housing the construction workers for the island’s renovation projects, is expected to open later this year.
Biggest Challenges in Selling Hawaii
Due to flight availability, distance and cost, Hawaii can be a challenging pitch to East Coast clients, but Hu says he at least sees some relief coming on the airlift side.
“Flights are sometimes an issue relative to other destinations, however Classic offers our air credit program that helps alleviate the overall package cost to the consumer,” says Hu. “Having said that, we believe relief is on the horizon as we see more lift coming into the islands, hopefully alleviating some of the supply/demand imbalance. With regards to hotel rates, we’ve seen rate increases moderate, but overall still expensive relative to other destinations (domestically and internationally).”
Hawaii Looks to Grow LGBT market
The Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) recently commissioned studies of LGBT travelers from six markets, the U.S., Canada, China, Australia, Japan and Taiwan. The study was conducted so Hawaii tourism partners can learn more about the preferences and profiles of LGBT travelers and how they could customize their own marketing and services accordingly.
“Anecdotally, we hear it is growing—but as you can imagine, this is not a statistic that we track,” says Hu. “We do have new programs that highlight LGBT programs.
“For a long time now Hawaii has been recognized as an LGBT-friendly destination, especially by Baby Boomers,” says Hu. “Growth with other segments would be fantastic but loyalty is also key when you consider there are many other competing sand-and-surf destinations.”