Deanna Isbister, director of leisure sales for the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau // © 2017 Toby Hoogs
Feature image (above): For clients seeking to connect with Hawaii Island in a new way, agents can suggest a sunrise experience atop Maunakea volcano. // © 2017 Hawaii Forest & Trail
As the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau’s director of leisure sales, Deanna Isbister provides U.S. and Canadian travel partners with steadfast support. From working with agents during destination training to interacting with them at trade shows, she gives them her complete attention.
Isbister demonstrates that same dedication when friends and family come to her island, lending her expert advice so that they get the most out of their vacation. Among her personal recommendations: a nighttime visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the glowing lava, and a stop at Kona Historical Society for traditional bread-baking in a Portuguese stone oven.
Here, Isbister offers insights into recent Hawaii Island travel trends and practical ways to sell the destination.
What are your most effective sales tools for travel agents these days?
Our niche webinars have been attracting experienced agents who want to gain more in-depth knowledge of visitor trends. Some of our past webinars have focused on culinary travel; farm tours; voluntourism; botanical gardens; history and culture; and our five national parks and sites. Highlighting these topics has been a successful way of attracting a targeted audience seeking specific information and marketing resources.
Mainland trade shows and destination seminars also continue to be effective for agents who are looking for the latest updates to share with their clients.
As travelers’ interests change, how are you adapting your message for agents?
We’ve seen a growing trend in travelers asking for hands-on experiences, so I advise agents to immerse their clients in educational activities across the island. For instance, our visitors can plant baby orchids to take home. They can roast their own 100 percent Kona coffee. They can plant a koa legacy tree, which they can revisit year after year and that later generations can enjoy.
What are a few examples of how you challenge travel agents to step up their Hawaii Island game?
Our seasoned travel partners are well-versed in our island's iconic spots, so we encourage them to dig a little deeper for their clients. Rather than having clients make a quick stop at Waipio Valley lookout, agents can book them a guided ATV or horseback ride to explore the valley and learn about its significant history.
Similarly, a drive through upcountry Waimea is beautiful. However, clients who visit Parker Ranch’s historic homes or Anna Ranch Heritage Center can find out more about the history of the “paniolo” (Hawaiian cowboy) culture.
Visiting Mauna Kea volcano’s summit for sunset and stargazing is extremely popular, so agents can suggest that clients try Hawaii Forest & Trail’s new sunrise tour instead. It’s just as exhilarating, but without the crowds.
How has Hawaii Island’s visitor profile changed in recent years?
We see more travelers seeking their own personalized and interactive activities, which they want to share instantly on social media. They are finding the small, quaint towns with local eateries, shops and artisans. Beyond the beaches and resorts, visitors want to hike and swim with a local tour guide who has access to private land and waterfalls.
What are the latest infrastructure changes on Hawaii Island, and how are they impacting travel?
Kona International Airport has officially become Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole. The airport is undergoing a $75 million expansion project, which will result in an upgraded facility that will enhance the customer experience.
Improvements to Daniel K. Inouye Highway (known locally as Saddle Road) are anticipated to be completed this year, making it easier for drivers to travel across the middle of the island between the east and west coasts while enjoying scenic views.