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Bruce Fisher spends his days telling visitors about Hawaii, 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 Hawaii culture during the day.
That crash course took on new intensity when Hurricane Iniki hit the island of Kauai 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 Oahu 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 Hawaii, 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 Kauai 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 Hawaii 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 Hawaii 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.”