MAUI, Hawaii — As part of Travel Agent's recently concluded coverage of Pleasant Holidays' Elite Experience event, which rewards the company's top producing travel agents, we sat down with Jack E. Richards, CEO of Pleasant Holidays, to find out the latest news and trends in the Aloha State.
Hawaii Will Set Another Record in Arrivals...in '18
Although we'll have to wait for the year-end numbers to be tallied, the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) is projecting yet another record-breaking year for Hawaii tourism arrivals.
But Richards is already looking for another record-breaking year in 2018.
"I think when the numbers are finalized, we'll see yet another record-breaking year for Hawaii tourism," says Richards. "And I think that will continue in 2018. There's really no reason that interest in Hawaii will decrease. Hawaii is perceived to be a lot safer than other U.S. states, plus it's clean and the service is great."
And if there was one knock on travel to the Aloha State, especially for East Coast clients, it would be the price of airfare. And even that appears to be getting better with the expected addition of Southwest Airlines, which recently announced plans to begin selling tickets in 2018 for service to Hawaii.
The carrier also announced its intention to launch an application process for Federal Aviation Administration authorization for Extended Operations (ETOPS), a regulatory requirement to operate between the mainland and the Hawaiian islands. Service details are expected to be announced at a later date, according to a statement issued by the airline.
"It's terrific news," says Richards, who told Travel Agent a few years to expect a major Southwest expansion. "I'm happy it is finally happening. Southwest is going to be a great addition for the destination, but really any new flights just help to drive the cost of getting here down."
And perhaps that will be enough to draw more Millennials to do the destination.
Baby Boomers, Not Millennials, Dominate
Whereas Millennials seem to be the hottest market for most destinations, Richards tells us Hawaii is still dominated by Baby Boomers.
In fact, back in May, George D. Szigeti, President and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, told us there was a concerted effort by Hawaii tourism officials to begin promoting to Millennials more.
"We know a lot of destinations are seeing a rise in Millennials, but for us, it's still Baby Boomers who are driving the most business to Hawaii," says Richards. "And that could have a lot to do with the cost of the destination."
Lanai Starting to Pick Up
“We’re starting to see a lot of interest. The bookings are up and the room nights are up,” says Richards. “Still not sure how they will do with flights, but this is a different clientele. This is a private plane destination.”
The island, which is owned by Ellison, closed all of its resorts in 2015, except the 11-room Hotel Lanai. Now, the island is home to two Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts properties.
Following a multimillion-dollar transformation, the former Four Seasons at Manele Bay re-opened last year as the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, and it has been drawing major attention. The property 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 slated to reopen in December of next year.
Other Pleasant News
“If you look at U.S. visiting data, there is year-over-year, double digit growth to Japan," says Richards, noting that 1.4 million tourists visit Japan annually. "That is a huge number. Those numbers get our attention. We follow the data closely and Asia is growing and continuing to grow.”
Richards also says the company will follow its Japan debut with additional Asian destinations, including China, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Hong Kong. Richards told Travel Agent that the other Asian destination will be launched within the next two years.