Kona with Classic Vacations

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Classic Vacations sells travel and tours to the South Pacific, Europe, Caribbean, Costa Rica, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. But when it comes to selling Hawaii, Classic Vacations is in home territory. The company opened in 1978 with just one place on its brochure: Hawaii. Now San Jose, CA-based Classic Vacations is offering the world and with it come all the choices for hotels, car rentals, flight options, destination-based activities and private transfers.

Bolstered by some very good years after cementing partnerships with Virtuoso, Signature and Ensemble, the company is making its original destination, Hawaii, that much more within reach for the traveling public with enhanced packaging and tour products to keep the flow piqued.

A current promotion, for instance, that has met with immense success for Hawaii provides inviting value-adds of up to $500 in airfare credits. In fact, Classic Vacations brass describes this program as the most successful in the company’s history so far. The booking window runs to June 30 with a travel window to mid-December.

And to make the company’s partnership with the agent community that much easier, Classic Vacations is launching a booking engine for agents on its website this year, allowing agents to bypass the time-consuming cost of booking by phone. As of press time, the launch was tentatively scheduled for the May-June period.

“We’ve invested heavily in time and resources in 2008 to set us up for 2009 and we have some really exciting stuff happening,” says Classic Vacations CEO Tim MacDonald. “First, we went out and hired a new creative services agency to design a whole new series of brochures. And we have taken that whole new look to a whole new level of communication.”

Travel to Hawaii in these times has been challenging—overall visitation for the islands is down at least 25 percent and two major air carriers to the islands have ceased operations—and the destination is generally perceived as an expensive place to take a vacation. However, new promotions and pricing plans spearheaded by the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau are helping to put a fresh face on the destination as one that is both desirable and now affordable even in the luxury categories. Those efforts have been reflected in Classic Vacations’ special offerings as well.

“This year, we’ve gotten a lot more aggressive with promotions,” says MacDonald. “We started [2008] with some cool ones: a $1,400 savings from staying at Starwood; a $1,200 savings from staying at Fairmont. And then the [aforementioned] $500 air credit. What we’re doing is staking a very compelling offer for consumers and combining it with an offer for agents as well. There will be big discounts for customers combined with big incentives to agents to sell those discounts.”

“In Hawaii, it is our experience there that really makes the difference,” adds Rich Biswell, a spokesman for Classic Vacations. “We have been selling this paradise for over 30 years and have strong relationships with properties that allow our company to go above and beyond for our guests with high levels of service. We have access to room categories and suites that not everyone has and we offer more of this inventory than anyone else. We offer a dedicated desk at Hertz for specialized and personal service for all our guests and we have had this for a long time as a preferred vendor. These are just some of the examples of the benefits and comforts agents can offer their clients when they work through Classic.”

classic’s kona When it comes to selling the Big Island, travel to Kona has been helped with the continued nonstop service through United Airlines, American Airlines, US Airways and Alaska Airlines from the west coast. However, most flights to the island come through regular transfers via Honolulu. What clients find when they get there is a huge island with many differences from her neighbors, starting with all the volcanic activity still roiling from Mauna Loa and Kilauea, and the lava planes that make this lush hotspot seem almost moonlike in many areas. The eastern Kona side is countered by the flourishing rainforest on the western coast of Hilo, a place where old Hawaii can still be found in turn-of-the-20th-century villages and rolling hills full of farms and forests along the central 2-lane road connecting the two points.