Posts filed under 'Hawaii Aloha Agent profiles'
Bruce Fisher spends his days telling visitors about Hawai‘i, but his own first impressions are somewhat hazy. His first visit was when he moved here in 1992. Working a radio shift at night, Bruce got a crash course on Hawai‘i culture during the day.
That crash course took on new intensity when Hurricane Iniki hit the island of Kaua‘i on September 11 of that year. Bruce got to the island just after the impact. There was no way to get information to or from the island: telephone lines were down, and radio stations were off the air. “I left with a cassette tape recorder, one change of clothes and about $20 in my pocket,” Bruce says. “I had a hotel room and a car with a full tank of gas.” What he thought would be a one or two day trip stretched to nine days, and that tank of gas had to last six because it was not possible to get more. The hotel stopped serving meals his first night, and the room became uninhabitable due to mosquitoes.
But none of that stopped Bruce and his microphone. He recorded interviews with everyone he could find, giving the tapes to Civil Defense pilots who delivered them to O‘ahu as they flew back and forth between the islands. “The radio station would broadcast that ‘Bruce is going to be at the church in one hour, meet him there to get messages to loved ones,’” says Bruce. “The radio station played the tapes all night long, sometimes raw (unedited). It was the only way for people to find out about loved ones.”
For most people not born in Hawai‘i, learning how to pronounce local names and place names takes training the tongue to move in unfamiliar ways. Bruce hadn’t had much time on the islands and remembers getting coaching on pronunciation during the commercial breaks of live broadcasts. “I didn’t know how to pronounce Nāwiliwili (a major Kaua‘i harbor),” he says, laughing. “I tried to avoid using the names because I knew I was saying them wrong.”
Bruce’s radio career advanced from overnight board shifts to a talk show where he was called “The Fisherman.” This was his big dream since childhood: to be a talk show host. “Radio was my passion. When other kids were listening to sports or music, I was listening to Larry King and other pioneers of talk radio. I was fascinated with it.” Bruce listened to talk radio at night and watched daytime television talk show hosts like Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin. “I thought, what a great job that would be!” But when his job ended, rather than accepting an offer on the mainland, he stayed in Hawai‘i and transitioned to a new form of communication: the internet.
Bruce had discovered his entrepreneurial spirit much earlier, back on the mainland. While working in sales, he had invented, patented and produced a product called the Remote Mate. This was useful before the days of the universal remote, when it was common to have three or four remotes just to run the TV, VCR and cable. Similarly, in the early days of the internet, it took some technical skill to connect. Bruce made house calls to set up internet service through modem and disc, served as an internet service provider, built, marketed and hosted websites. But the early enthusiasm for all things dot com was tested in the 2000 collapse, and Bruce morphed into a travel business with the help of his wife, Yaling. “I have to thank Yaling,” Bruce says. “My success is mine, but this company is a partnership, and I need her 100 percent. Without her, I couldn’t have done this."
Bruce is proud of the business that he and Yaling have built. “This business is our baby.” At ten years, it has passed infancy and is still growing. Hawaii Aloha Travel is adding more services focused on local activities (in addition to air travel and hotels) and is beginning an affiliate program. With all that activity, Bruce makes time for hobbies, like exercise and running. Friends who surf have motivated him to begin learning that sport as well. But, he says, “My passion is working on this company.”
Internet companies like Expedia make it possible for anyone to make their own travel arrangements, but that can also become overwhelming. “Maybe you don’t need us if you come to Hawai‘i every year,” Bruce says. “But for a lot of people, this is their first trip, maybe their only trip, and they don’t want to screw it up.” While there is a lot of good information online, it is hard to evaluate from a distance. “When you read a review, that is someone’s experience at one point in time. We have a history with the property, not just because we’re here: the real reason is because we have knowledge of the place – that’s the reason to use a travel agency.”
Bruce still enjoys communicating, through podcasts and social media. “I get a kick out of responses, when people recognize what we do for them,” Bruce says. “Being appreciated always makes it a great day.” He pauses, then adds, “Most days are like that for me.”
HAT Celebrates 10 years
Hawaii Travel with East-West Aloha
Hawaii Vacations Spell Success
Posted by Cindy Scheopner Follow me on Twitter @Scheopner
February 6th, 2012
While the fireworks ban might have put a damper on New Year's festivities in Hawai‘i, Hawaii Aloha Travel (HAT) still managed to end 2011 with a bang! It was a nice close to a decade of hard work, dedication and overall success – finishing stronger than before despite the rocky economy.
Always a good time with the HAT team.
The team of local travel specialists, including founders Bruce and Yaling Fisher, have become one of Hawai‘i's top experts when it comes to planning a memorable vacation to the Hawaiian Islands. They're a new breed of travel agents who understand Internet travel purchasing and understand what visitors want. The travel team has helped thousands to plan a trip here, offering sound advice from a local's perspective; agents live on O‘ahu in Honolulu, Kailua, Waikele, Ewa Beach, Waialua or on the Big Island in Kona.
Their hard work didn't go unnoticed, wrapping up 2011 with an appreciation party at the Modern Honolulu. Blue Sky Tours and Aqua Hotels sponsored the event that featured local musicians, funnyman Lanai Tabura and a few fun prizes.
Sharing some smiles, laughter at the HAT 10-year celebration.
One of their biggest accomplishments that ended the year strong included the debut of a fully redesigned HAT website. It's got a fresh new look with more than 3,000 pages of valuable Hawai‘i travel information. Navigating through the site's a breeze, with an added feature – a complete activity engine that allows visitors to book all activities recommended by HAT's in-house concierge. Chief Technology Officer Om Prakash Sharma dedicated months of tedious work to redesign the site, which is a fully-functional "work-in-progress," according to Bruce.
HAT's website gets a virtual facelift for easier perusing. Check it out when planning your next trip to Hawai‘i.
With the start of a new decade together, the HAT team continues to embrace the digital age. Bruce's weekly podcasts, the Hawaii Vacations blog and a plethora of videos are virtual go-to places for those interested in visiting Hawai‘i. The new site also makes it easier to share information via Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus. Hat has even been featured on the Travel Channel.
I had a chance to talk with Bruce recently. He says he couldn't have done it without his wife, Yaling, who has been the nuts and bolts of it all. Her drive and go-get-em attitude has helped HAT to blossom into what it is today, nearly a decade later. And as for Bruce, he's reinvented himself after coming from a background of broadcast journalism. Today, he calls himself a "Hawaii Vacation Evangelist."
Posted by Alyssa S. Navares Follow me on Twitter @Uamalie87
January 8th, 2012
Leaders of 21 countries in the Asia-Pacific region will meet in Honolulu the second week of November. The APEC meeting is fueling some civic projects, like street repairs, and impacting social issues, like the increased use of surveillance cameras. It is also prompting many local firms to think more broadly about how they do business.
While many Hawaii businesses are experienced in working with Japanese visitors, few have a deep cultural awareness of the expectations of visitors from other Asia-Pacific countries. But the Asian way of doing business is deeply embedded in Hawaii Aloha Travel. It is more than a superficial attempt to be sensitive to other cultures, it is the way this home-grown Hawaii business has evolved from the two founders to become one of the top 10 travel agencies in Hawaii with 15 agents.
Yaling and Bruce Fisher, owners of Hawaii
Aloha Travel (photo by Katherine Finch).
Yaling Yu Fisher is a native of Taiwan who received bachelors and masters degrees in the United States. She worked in Silicon Valley during the dot com boom of the mid to late 1990s. She began Hawaii Aloha Travel (HAT) in 2000 with husband Bruce Fisher, a former journalist with a degree in psychology. HAT is an online travel and tour agency focused on visitors to Hawaii. The business has received industry awards for its innovative approach to travel and Yaling and Bruce have received individual awards for sales, service and business development.
The success of Hawaii Aloha Travel is due in part to the Asian approach that Yaling brought from Taiwan: building personal relationships and working one to one, face to face that is used within the company and extended to customers. This philosophy has resonated with travelers from many countries who visit Hawaii. It is especially compatible with visitors from China and Taiwan who have become HAT customers. Because many Hawaii hotels and tourist attractions are not familiar with Asian expectations, Yaling has served as cultural interpreter and liaison between her guests and their local hosts.
While personal service is a hallmark of the HAT approach to travel, Yaling and Bruce have an eye on the global market. They participated in a recent tech and social media trip to Shanghai with Geeks on a Plane and [re]think: Shanghai. The goal of the trip is to promote cross-border connections through shared interests in tech, innovation, sustainability and entrepreneurship. Hawaii Aloha Travel is a fusion of east and west that was born in Hawaii through the partnership of Yaling and Bruce Fisher. It thrives through a recognition of what each culture contributes to the personal and business relationship.
Posted by Cindy Scheopner Follow me on Twitter @Scheopner
September 25th, 2011
Yaling Yu Fisher has spent her lifetime accomplishing things others said she couldn't. Who better to start a travel agency just as the events of 9/11 sent the Hawaii visitor industry reeling? Hawaii Aloha Travel is now celebrating a decade in business, due to the same tenacity that brought Yaling from Taiwan to Hawaii by way of Silicon Valley – a journey that combines business and personal success.
Yaling's first trip to Hawaii was to visit Bruce Fisher. She was working as a product manager for a technology company in San Jose, California. After a series of promotions, she was preparing to buy a house; a concrete sign of prosperity and proof of success to her parents and extended family. But Bruce proposed marriage. After thinking about it, Yaling accepted; canceling the contract on the house and giving two-weeks notice to a boss who said she was crazy. Bruce and her boss may have had different ideas about what Yaling should do, but her response was the same one that she always relied upon: “I need to think about the future, not as an excuse but I need to be cautious.” After considering the options, however, Yaling is willing to take risks.
If Yaling had followed the expected path, she might still be living in her parents' home along with her brother and sister. But even as a young girl, she challenged the family custom that prized the first son and grandson over any female children. “What about me?” she asked. “I am the first daughter, the first granddaughter.” Yaling has fond memories of going with her father to see jets at the airport where he worked as a mechanic. Yet, they clashed often as she was growing up. “I hate you because you are tough and stubborn,” she told him once. But she also thanks him for “training me to be someone, to think, to be tough, not to just believe anything.” Yaling followed his model in working full time after high school while attending college at night. “I have your genes,” she told him. And when she wanted to attend college in the United States, her father said “Go for it!”.
Yaling first attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and then earned a Master's Degree at Western Michigan University, places with no substantial Chinese population. Yaling embraced the change, working to master the English language and different university systems along with new cultural expectations (her first argument in English was about the Bible). She found the same challenges in working for technology companies, where she took on product lines with little growth prospects as a marketing challenge. Along the way, she earned another certification from San Jose State University in purchasing management. “I met people who brought me to another level to understand who I am. When you see people at major U.S companies, it is a completely different social circle,” Yaling says. “You see how big you can go.”
She disliked what she sees as a traditional Chinese focus on externals like a house, money or car. “I don't want people to judge based on that, on the clothes they are wearing. I focus on skill and who they are.” When she arrived in Hawaii, Yaling was concerned that she was returning to a culture she had tried so hard to leave behind. Then, she thought “Maybe I need to accept this as human nature and see how I can make a difference.” And, she adds, “To remind myself that I don't want to become that kind of person.”
This focus served her well as she began her new personal and professional lives in Hawaii. The “dot-bomb” internet crash had already impacted Bruce Fisher's internet business. The transition to travel was just beginning when 9/11 hit. “We started to go through everything, step by step,” Yaling says. “I got that from my dad: how to control money.” Starting from the bottom gave Yaling and Bruce the opportunity to begin together. “We talked every day. Where are you coming from, what's important and why?” Although neither had a background in the travel business, they said “OK, let's do this.” Just as the fledgling travel agency took off, they hit a cash-flow wall. What could have ended the partnership made it stronger. Yaling tapped into savings to bridge the gap and the agency prospered.
Now past early growing pains, the business is flourishing and Yaling's sense of adventure is unabated. “I tell the agents all the time: every day should be your first day, a new day. Learn something different, something new everyday.” Yaling's family has visited Hawaii. Her father still tests, asking “Are you sure you are going to make it? Are you coming back home?” Yaling smiles confidently. “Bruce and I will be happy every day. We live here, still have a job, still have each other.”
Success on her own terms.
Posted by Cindy Scheopner Follow me on Twitter @Scheopner
January 2nd, 2011
Travel to Hawaii is increasing after a slowdown the past couple of years. That's just one of the causes for celebration at Hawaii-Aloha Travel's annual appreciation event, which included prizes, entertainment and a wonderful meal shared in a spirit of enthusiasm.
The HAT agents, business partners and friends gathered last night were also treated to a musical feast, provided by Makana's slack-key guitar and vocals, percussion from Gerardo Velez and human beatbox Jason Tom.
Makana performed some of his favorite compositions, but also ranged over blues and classic rock. The addition of Velez both complimented and challenged Makana. Velez has played with industry giants, most famously with Jimmy Hendrix at Woodstock. Velez and Makana collaborated on a Hendrix-inspired rendition of "All Along the Watchtower" that easily matched the intensity of the original.
The musical performances followed comments from Hawaii hotel operators and Hawaii Aloha Travel's wholesale travel partner, Blue Sky Tours. Representatives from Aqua Hotels and Resorts, Aston Hotels and Resorts and Outrigger Hotels and Resorts thanked HAT agents for their part in this year's increased room night bookings. So far this year, Hawaii visitors have spent 36,000 nights in the top tier of hotels booked by Hawaii Aloha Travel.
For the agents, it is a chance to see one another in person and catch up. The agents work from home, so they enjoyed the chance to talk story, as well as meeting family members. HAT welcomed three new agents recently, so this was everyone's chance to get acquainted.
HAT founders and co-owners Bruce and Yaling Fisher awarded highly-customized certificates to each agent, and handed out many prizes for food, spa treatments and room stays. Even though we live in Hawaii, it is fun to check out new places and parts of the islands.
Bruce Fisher also acknowledged the success of the Hawaii Vacation blog, thanking its bloggers, and the man who created and keeps the HAT website functioning. As usual, Bruce worked for most of the evening as master of ceremonies and live-streaming video, although Makana turned the camera on him during the introductions.
Finally, at the end of the evening, with thanks and appreciation bestowed, Bruce and Yaling had time for a dance. Bruce said, "So proud of our team and what we have accomplished this year, this was truly a night to remember."
Bruce and Yaling Fisher founded Hawaii Aloha Travel in 2001 and now employ 14 agents who are experts on Hawaii travel.
Posted by Cindy Scheopner Follow me on Twitter @Scheopner
November 14th, 2010
If you'd like to get off the beaten path in Hawaii, Ashley Larson is happy to show you the way. The Hawaii Aloha Travel agent has visited all of the islands of Hawaii and loves to help people find unique experiences on them.
Ashley can describe places for travelers to visit on their own. For example, she recommends hiking and snorkeling in Hawaii as great free activities and she's happy to give you personalized recommendations depending on the time and location of your visit. The photo shows Ashley at the Ko‘olau waterfall on Oahu, a wonderful place that is a relatively easy but unmarked hike.
Ashley has a degree in marketing from the University of Utah. She has lived in many beautiful places, including Park City, Utah and San Diego, California. Ashley now calls the North Shore of Oahu home. Ashley says there are dozens of turtles in the ocean outside her ocean front home, so it is easy to swim with them. Other Hawaii activities she enjoys on the North Shore include yoga retreats and warming up horses before polo matches. She says yoga and nature are quiet things that calm the mind.
"This is what I do in my spare time: I do yoga, golf, swim with turtles and help with polo horses." She also begins each day with a walk along the beach to pick up trash. "I really respect and care about the land, the ‘aina," Ashley says. She has been learning about the history and culture of Hawaii before it became a state. She explains to potential visitors the meaning of a lei gift, and that the aloha spirit represents both love and respect.
Ashley has worked for Hawaii Aloha Travel for over four years. She says the most rewarding part of her job is helping people have their dream Hawaii vacation and, maybe, adding a special experience they didn't even dream of.
Posted by Cindy Scheopner Follow me on Twitter @Scheopner
September 13th, 2010
Making Hawaii vacations
as simple as a stroll on the beach – that’s Nancy Kummerer’s goal. "It is just overwhelming for people," Nancy says. "Especially with Hawai‘i, there is almost too much to choose from. There are so many islands, so many things to do!" As an agent for Hawaii Aloha Travel, Nancy helps simplify the process.
Nancy and her husband moved to Hawaii with the military five years ago and have used that time to explore. They have visited many parts of Oahu and the neighbor islands, and have enjoyed the cruise around the islands. (Nancy’s father works on that ship, he moved to Hawaii about the same time that she did, looking for something new.) She now draws on this experience as a visitor in helping to craft trips for others.
Nancy has a degree in hospitality management from Ohio State University and had worked in hotels, including a stint as an event planner in Las Vegas. Even with a background in the hospitality industry, Nancy says she was surprised at how much travel agents can help in vacation planning. "I had never gone through travel agents before I began working here," she says. "It’s amazing how great the rates are that we have with hotels and airlines. It is better than you can get on your own or online."
Nancy lives on the North Shore of Oahu, in Wailua, near the water. "When people ask what the surf is like, I just look out the window," she says. She enjoys walking her dog on the beach in front of her apartment building. "We see sea turtles on the beach sunning themselves all the time; Monk Seals come up."
Nancy loves to travel, so her job as an agent is perfect. She gets to learn about new hotels and activities. She still hasn’t done everything she’d like to on, even on Oahu. I asked the best part of her job. As much as Nancy loves to travel herself, she said, "Bringing people to paradise! It couldn’t get much better than that. People don’t realize how affordable it can be to get here, I love to show them." And to help them navigate the many vacation opportunities that Hawaii offers.
September 5th, 2010
It’s always good to have local advice when you’re planning a Hawaii vacation
. That might mean someone who has visited the islands, maybe more than once. Even better would be someone who now lives in Hawaii. Better than that? Someone who grew up here, has lived on three of the islands, and enjoys helping visitors make the most of their Hawaii experience. That’s Tara Barron, the most senior agent at Hawaii Aloha Travel.
Unlike most of us, Tara was dragged to Hawaii under protest — as a young girl leaving her friends on the mainland. (I confess to taking some comfort in knowing that parental relocations are not popular no matter how fabulous the destination.) She grew up on Maui, and has lived on the Big Island (Hawaii) as well as Oahu. When she tells you about the islands of Hawaii, she draws on years of experience.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Tara likes to help visitors with multi-island packages. Visiting more than one island lets travelers experience the different aspects of Hawaii and it allows them to vary their own Hawaii activities
. Hiking and visiting nature preserves are part of a Big Island trip, along with seeing the volcano. Many of the sites with names that are familiar to travelers are on Oahu, along with important historical, governmental and cultural spots.
Tara says about half of her customers are taking their first trip to Hawaii, the others are returning. Veterans are either looking for something different, or know they want to repeat a great experience. First time visitors, however, often need hand-holding all the way through. "Sometimes people will tell me they want to visit the Big Island," Tara says. "I ask them what they want to do, and they describe activities that are on Oahu. It’s not uncommon for people to think that Oahu is the ‘Big Island’." That could be because it has the most population or is the center of government, but when describing islands in Hawaii, "big" means geography. Tara gently guides visitors to the experience they really have in mind.
Tara lends a wealth of experience and a helping hand to Hawaii visitors, whether it’s the first visit or fifth. Each time, the trip is enhanced with her local touch.
August 29th, 2010
"Where could I work and feel like I was on vacation everyday?" That's the question that led Abby Lapointe to Hawaii, and her position as an agent with Hawaii Aloha Travel. Hawaii won out as a destination over the many countries throughout the world where Abby has traveled.
Abby's degree in Wildlife Biology and Environmental Science is the result of a university career that began in Canada and concluded in Australia — although she is a native of Vermont. That educational experience melded a love of the outdoors, of animals (hence her photo friend) and of travel that continues. "I've always been a traveler," Abby says. Before landing in Hawaii, she traveled through Asia and lived on a beach in Thailand for a year.
Abby uses her experience as a traveler now to do the same planning for other people. Her favorite thing? "I love booking cruises for people," Abby says. "For first time travelers, a cruise of the four main islands lets you get a whole taste of the islands, a little of everything." True to her love of being on the water, Abby is an active paddler for the Lanikai Canoe Club and she sails with her significant other on his boat.
In addition to being a cruise specialist, Abby loves focusing on return clients. "A lot of my business is referrals — bringing people back out to Hawaii. I love it when I book a honeymoon for a couple and they return for an anniversary or bring along parents, friends and family." Developing a long-term relationship with her clients allows Abby to remember what they have already experienced, what they enjoyed, and make suggestions of what to try next. "I try to focus on making good relationships, to keep it in the family, Abby says. "That way I know what they would like."
Living in Hawaii allows Abby to feel like she is on vacation and her work lets her share that feeling with others: "I love to travel and I love to make people happy. We live in paradise! My job is making people happy every day."
July 31st, 2010
Cooking and caring for her family makes Lin Cosier happy; and she has a secret for making others happy — she can turn a cup of coffee into a Hawaii vacation
. Those two passions come together in her job as an agent for Hawaii Aloha Travel.
Lin is able to work from home, talking to her clients about visiting Hawaii as she sees Oahu’s beautiful windward coast from the lanai (deck/patio). This also allows her to keep an eye on her three children and four stepchildren, who are often joined by others from the neighborhood. Lin says working from home is both convenient and very dangerous: "There is no one pushing you, you run your own schedule."
In what is perhaps every mother’s quest, Lin says her goal for this year is to find balance. As we talked, I forgot for a moment what it was like to have young children and asked about her hobbies. Lin laughed, "I USED to have hobbies!" Then she mentioned the pleasure she gets from cooking. She also serves as the 411 contact for her extended family. Even though they live on Oahu, and have for generations, they turn to Lin and her encyclopedic memory for information about everything.
Lin’s special talent, though, is in making Hawaii seem real and attainable for those yearning to visit. "People are surprised how far a few dollars will go," she says. "I ask them to give up one cup of coffee every day to get to Hawaii in nine months." I buy a cup of coffee every morning. With the tax and a tip, it comes to just over a thousand dollars in nine months, not quite enough to pay for an entire vacation. "But it makes it real, doesn’t it?" Lin asks. "It’s more attainable. What are you willing to scrimp on to get here?"
Lin has another set of questions she uses to help travelers decide which island to visit and which activities to include. It, too, gets directly to the experience each person hopes to have, coaxing the dream of Hawaii from their hearts and into a travel plan. That caring connection marks Lin’s personal and professional lives, which are joined in a love of Hawaii.
July 17th, 2010