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Agents who’ve encountered resistance from travelers to prebooking such Hawaii activities as luaus and snorkel sails shouldn’t assume they’ll receive the same response when it comes to scheduling some golf.

“I think golf’s an easy sell, but agents have to ask the question,” says Rick Garrett, president of Happy Vacations. In fact, Happy has been working to increase the number of Hawaii courses that will pay commission to travel agents for individual rounds of golf they book for their clients. Garrett says the company is making steady progress. “Golf courses are just now coming around to thinking there’s a role for agencies to sell golf,” he says.

It’s worth noting that Hawaii’s at or near the top of the heap in several golf categories, according to data published in the January 2003 issue of Golf World Business. For example, the average quality of the 61 Hawaii courses that were rated by Golf Digest in 2002 was 3.66 stars a strong enough showing to earn the islands the top spot on the list. Hawaii tied for fifth place for the number of four-and-a-half) and five-star courses, with 15 (Florida, California, North Carolina and Michigan had more; sharing fifth place were South Carolina and Wisconsin).

In addition, Hawaii took fifth place on the list of states that golfers consider for their next overnight trip, pulling 27 percent. That was topped only by Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Arizona, in that order, according to the National Golf Foundation.

The latest visitor-satisfaction tallies gathered by the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (DBEDT) show that a significant segment of domestic travelers hit the links. During the first half of 2001, the latest period for which numbers are available, almost one-fifth of travelers who came to Hawaii from the eastern part of the continental U.S. played at least around during their visit. Broken down by island, Kauai saw 25 percent of its visitors play golf, while 21.4 percent of travelers to the Big Island took a turn on the greens, 19.3 percent of Maui visitors put their stuff, as did 8.3 percent of Oahu travelers. Travelers from the western states teed off as follows: 21.4 percent on Kauai, 20.6 on the Big Island, 17.6 on Maui and 5.3 on Oahu. These numbers are from the DBEDT visitor-satisfaction survey for the first half of 2001.

“Clients may know they’re going to do a luau, but not which one or which night, or whether it might be cheaper once
they arrive,” Garrett explains.

“Golf is not something that tends to be discounted.” Getting a tee time can be a challenge, especially during peak travel periods. Thus, agents should point out the difference between prebooking golf and other activities. Unless golfers are hooking a retail golf package, they may bring their clubs with plans to play a round or two, and leave the where and when to fate.

Agents who sell Hawaii routinely are familiar with the bevy of packages and promotions hotels offer each year. These can run the gamut from room-and-car or room-and-golf deals to packages that provide a free night’s stay or free breakfast every morning for qualifying stays of a certain duration or longer.

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