Selling isles has
changed since 9/11,
agents say

West Coast visitors want deals
while those from the East Coast
want to bring the whole family

By Tim Ruel

Hawaii has remained a top market for Northern California travelers this year because of good deals available through travel agents, said Berkeley agent Terrence M. Regan.

"It's a very easy sell for us," said Regan, president of Berkeley's Northside Travel.

Even the most budget-minded travelers, who are normally drawn to the less expensive hotels of Waikiki, are being wooed to neighbor islands because of sheer bargains, Regan said. Fourth- or fifth-night-free deals are commonly available through agents these days, he said.

East-Coast agents, meanwhile, have the post-Sept. 11 task of convincing people its OK to travel to Hawaii, said Mary Peters, owner of Friendly Travel Inc. in Northern Virginia. "It's slow but it's moving," she said.

Peters and Regan are area directors for the 24,000-member American Society of Travel Agents, which is holding its 72nd World Travel Congress at the Hawaii Convention Center from Sunday through Friday. Yesterday afternoon, Peters and Regan were wandering through a trade show at the convention center, which had an estimated 450 exhibitors.

Some 3,000 agents, vendors and other attendees have registered for the event, and boosters say Hawaii will benefit when agents go home to sell isle vacation packages with a more educated perspective. "It's not unusual for host cities to realize an increase in tourism in the years immediately following ASTA's World Travel Congress," said Susan Tanzman, chairwoman of this year's congress.

Peters said her agency is seeing a larger portion of family travel this year in the Hawaii market, because of the terrorist attacks. "It's too far for the families to be apart," said Peters, who next year will be chairwoman of the society's World Travel Congress in Miami.

Agents at the convention also confirmed a trend already noticed by many in the Hawaii hotel industry: Customers are booking their trips with less advance notice.

"Lots of last-minute travel," said Peggy Whaley of Outland Travel Inc. in Tennessee, which deals in group travel and sends a big chunk of its business to Hawaii. Whaley cited Web travel research as a reason.

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