The new season of the hit TV show “The Amazing Race” began its first episode in a destination very familiar to tour operator Islands in the Sun—Bora Bora. Contestants searched for clues in sand castles on the beach and hustled to complete high-strung, fast-paced obstacles that are typical of the show. The point? Could a TV show fuel anyone’s wanderlust to visit this Pacific gem? According to Mark Punshon, v.p. of sales for Islands in the Sun, most certainly.
“Tahiti, Bora Bora and Moorea are very popular right now because of the TV show ‘The Amazing Race,’ which just featured Bora Bora with great images of a skydive, among other things,” adds Punshon. “It was really interesting how the show resonated with not only our clients, but travel agents, too.”
Scenes from a reality TV show could very well be the catalyst for boosted sales to Bora Bora, but we’re betting on the 45-year experience trailing Islands in the Sun, a tour company solely focused on travel to Fiji, Tahiti, The Cook Islands and Australia. And like any tour operator today selling travel in a niche market, trends shift, which has led Islands to branch out to places like Bali, Thailand, and the islands of the Great Barrier Reef. Punshon says the small shift is a sign clients are looking for other beach destinations outside of Fiji and Tahiti.
For the past 10 years, the anniversary, honeymoon and wedding markets have been good to Islands in the Sun; it’s a segment Punshon describes as “resilient.” Another emerging market is the company’s luxury, high-end tours to places like St. Regis Bora Bora and InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa.
“What we’re also noticing is a huge trend of travelers not just going to the traditional Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora experiences but they are combining places like Hotel Kia Ora in Rangiroa, heading off to Tikehau and even visiting the Marquesas Islands,” Punshon says.
For couples, the 6-day Tahiti and Rangiroa Vacation ($2,989 pp dbl) starts with roundtrip air from Los Angeles to Papeete on Air Tahiti Nui and includes stays at the InterContinental Tahiti; island tours; three nights at Hotel Kia Ora; and a guided snorkeling excursion. For clients looking to marry, the 6-day Matangi Private Island Resort Tour ($3,299 pp dbl) includes five nights at Matangi Private Island Resort; full breakfast, lunch and dinner daily; snorkeling, kayaking and hiking tours; and onsite wedding coordination that includes a Fijian choir, bottle of champagne and private dinner for the couple.
As we know, it’s one big happy (multi-generational) family vacation that continues to sell with tour operators and travel agents. Like most in the travel industry, Islands in the Sun is also witnessing a big trend in multi-generational vacation itineraries, and for Islands the family is traveling specifically to Fiji and Australia.
Why Fiji? Punshon says that while Tahiti is a destination for lovers in love (honeymoons and weddings), and at a much higher price point, Fiji is becoming more of a cultural vacation that everyone in the family can enjoy and not break the bank.
Offering the standard 10 to 15 percent agent commission, Islands in the Sun reaches out to agents via its newsletter and encourages agents to connect with them on the company’s agent-focused Facebook page. “Islands in the Sun has concentrated on travel agents since the late-1960s because that’s our core business, it’s where we get our best return on investment,” says Punshon.
“We need to continue that focus, which is why we have sales agents across North America putting 100 percent of their efforts on how to help travel agents increase their business.” The tour operator’s agent-dedicated Facebook page (facebook.com/IslandsInTheSunForAgents) is an efficient tool for travel agents to use and connect with Islands’ salespeople, download brochures, learn about new travel deals and seek out marketing support.
Currently, the brand is reinvigorating the way it sells travel by introducing new travel deals with the catchphrase, “The Treat Is On Us.” Punshon says the value add-ons were created to increase business for the travel agent and provide clients with an “all encompassing packaged deal.”
“Islands in the Sun has a long history in the market of wanting to be really good at selling the South Pacific,” adds Punshon. “There is no thought to branch out into other places of the world. We want to be really good at what we do. We don’t try and sell to other islands like the Maldives or the Seychelles because that’s not our core business.”
Islands in the Sun: (888) 828-6877; islandsinthesun.com