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Pro tip: Visit the Islands to sell the Islands

Pro tip: Visit the Islands to sell the Islands

When Jessica Hayes started as a travel advisor, she stuck to booking Disney vacations, later expanding into cruises and Caribbean travel. A few years in, she had the opportunity to visit Hawaii for the first time since childhood, when she had failed to fully appreciate the Islands.

Her first adult taste of the aloha welcome was all it took. Today, Hayes makes the transpacific journey to Hawaii a minimum of four times per year to stay up to date on the latest offerings and products.

“I live by the motto that if I go there, my clients will,” Hayes said. “I want to become an authority on Hawaii vacations, so I go several times each year. There are so many things to do and so much happening, I want to stay in touch with the destination.”

Recently, Hayes ventured off to start her own travel advisor business, InTouch Vacations, a Travel Leaders Network affiliate in Forestdale, Mass. She now has her sights set on Hawaii and wants the Aloha State to constitute the majority of her business within five years.

Hayes returned from her most recent trip to the Hawaiian Islands at the beginning of May, and here she s some of her latest tips and recommendations, including what to do during the muggiest summer months.

Q: What are some of the challenges you faced when starting off as a travel advisor?

A: There is just so much to being a good advisor, so many details. When you’re a new agent it’s hard to realize how many things you need to be thinking about. It’s one thing to plan a vacation for you and your family, it’s very different planning for someone else. To make it perfect, you really have to get to know the client.

Q: How did you progress in your business and continue to grow?

A: I think it’s important to start with what you know and are comfortable with and get good at that before branching out to other products.

I started with Disney World and Disneyland and then later branched out to cruises maybe six months in. Later I started with the Caribbean, selling all-inclusive resorts.

I need to grow with my clients. They loved the Disney vacations but didn’t want to necessarily go to Disney the very next year. If I wanted to keep the clients I worked so hard for, I needed to expand my knowledge.

Q: How did Hawaii come to be a priority destination for you?

A: People want to go to the Caribbean, but they often can’t pinpoint a specific island and are really just looking for a beach destination. People want to specifically go to Hawaii, and to me that means an opportunity.

Around 2014, some other agents and myself had the opportunity to visit Aulani, [a Disney Resort Spa] on Oahu, and I was blown away. Not just by the resort, which is great, but by everything: the culture, the food, the language, the scenery. Everything to me was absolutely perfect. It was so eye-opening to me for so many reasons. I hadn’t been since I was kid, and I just didn’t realize how much I wanted to be in Hawaii until I went.

Q: What are some of your go-to ideas for adventure travelers, families and romantic getaways?

A: For outdoorsy and adventure stuff, I point people to Kauai. It has great hiking and water activities. One of my favorite things to do on any of the Islands is a sunset golf cart tour. It’s offered at the Princeville Makai Golf Course and is so fun and unique. They take you around, sharing information about the nature and the history of the area while you enjoy the beverage of your choice, and then you see this spectacular sunset.

For families, other than Aulani on Oahu, I recommend Maui a lot. The island has kind of a great mix of opportunities for wonderful things. There is Haleakala National Park, the road to Hana, fabulous beaches and lots of family-friendly things to do.

For romance, my go-to is the Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island. There’s something so special about that resort. I know that the staff go out of their way to make events and special occasions extra special. As a travel agent, I really appreciate that.

Q: Working from the East Coast, how do you overcome the perception that Hawaii is an expensive or aspirational destination?

A: New York and New Jersey have had nonstop flights to Hawaii for a while. Coming from the Boston area, we just got the first nonstop service, and it’s a game-changer. It’s really opened people’s eyes, and we’ve seen more interest. When I lay out for clients the flight time with a stopover to the Caribbean, they realize getting to Hawaii doesn’t really take that much longer.

I also think a lot of people have it in their heads that it’s so expensive and hard to get there, but Hawaii is available to anybody of any budget.

Q: What are some of your favorite summertime recommendations?

A: Hawaii Forest and Trail does a great stargazing tour up to the peak of Mauna Kea on Hawaii Island. That’s a great way to go up the mountain and get some cooler temperatures and do something you can’t do anywhere else.
Obviously, anything you can do in the water is great for summer, and I really enjoyed the catamaran tour along Kauai’s Napali Coast. The manta ray dive on the Big Island is also a really special, unique activity.

Q: Any hotels, perhaps with good pools or beach access, that make for good summertime choices?

A: Again, I have to recommend the Fairmont Orchid, which is fabulous for families, too. They have this man-made cove area that is safe for kids to swim in and great for snorkeling. The Grand Hyatt on Kauai has just a phenomenal pool area; I can’t tell you how cool that place is. Also, I really like the Fairmont Kea Lani on Maui, they have this amazing multilayered pool and a slide that goes from one pool to another.

Q: Any final words of advice for travel advisors looking to expand their Hawaii business?

A: You need to invest in yourself and invest in your business by going [to the Islands].
There are a lot of opportunities for fam trips and other programs. You really need to understand the lay of the land and how special it is to be able to sell it well.  

This business is my passion, and that’s what makes it work.