Robyn Basso

Robyn Basso, Senior Director of Travel Industry Partnerships at the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau
Robyn has journeyed from the heartland of America to the paradise islands of Hawaii. Check out her story to hear about this exciting tale.

Steve: What is your professional background?

Robyn: I’ve been in travel since I graduated college, with a bachelor of arts. I’ve worked for a wholesaler, hotel companies, and now for HTUSA. Which is the marketing organization for the U.S. for the state of Hawaii.

Steve: What inspired you to choose the travel industry?

Robyn: I’ve always been drawn to travel and adventure. When I was young, I envisioned a profession where it would give me an opportunity to experience new places, meet new people, and where every day would offer something different.

The travel industry fulfills all of these requirements, and in addition, it’s an industry where our jobs are to make people’s dreams come true. So there’s really nothing in the world that’s better than that.

Steve: How did you begin your career?

Robyn: I started in the travel industry after graduating from Indiana University, in Bloomington Indiana. I always had a passion for travel. I was fortunate to land my first position working at a call center for a tour operator, based out of Chicago, that specialized in Hawaii. It turned into an opportunity to advance within the organization - holding six positions, with increasing responsibility in three cities. The role helped me develop an in-depth knowledge of the wholesale and retail distribution channels; as well as igniting my passion for Hawaii.

From there, I worked for two Hawaiian hotel companies on the mainland to round out my hospitality experience before joining HTUSA in 2002. I’m fortunate to have been working with travel professionals, selling and promoting the destination for over 20 years.

Steve: How has your professional experiences changed your perspective on tourism?

Robyn: Representing Hawaii for 20 years, and living in Honolulu for three years, has shaped my perspective on tourism in many ways. Tourism is the lifeblood of the economy in Hawaii. I understand the importance of what I do, and the significant impact it has on so many people. I have learned that being a responsible promoter of tourism is a delicate balance. It’s working to grow visitor arrivals by sharing what makes the Hawaiian islands so special in a culturally appropriate manner. As well as an awareness of the impact of tourism on the local people and infrastructure. It’s important to grow tourism in a responsible and sustainable way, that is beneficial to the local people of Hawaii, as well as to the visitors.

Steve: What are the benefits of working with a travel agent?

Robyn: Travel professionals are an extremely valued part of bringing visitors to the Hawaiian islands. Our organization is dedicated to this important extension of our sales team. With all that Hawaii offers, it can be overwhelming to consumers with so many choices. That’s when they need a knowledgeable travel advisor to help guide them. Agents are invaluable to that process.

Travel professionals have a personal relationship with their clients. They can match the right clients with the right island or island combination. As well as, expertise and insider tips on activities, shopping, dining, and local festivals and events. As vacations are a significant financial investment, but also an investment of time, we want visitors to have the best experience possible.

That’s why we invested in a revamped travel agent resource center and specialists programs on our website. It is This is to ensure agents have the most up to date and relevant information and training right at their fingertips. We want to arm them with the best information so they can exceed their clients expectations. Travel agents are also advocates for their clients. So their expertise and relationships are invaluable for finding the best value for the client’s budget. They can ensure additional perks, such as room upgrades and special amenities. If anything goes wrong, such as flight cancellations or weather issues, a travel agent can assist with re-booking flights, and making alternate travel arrangements to ensure their client’s vacation experience goes as smoothly as possible.

Steve: What trends in the travel industry do you foresee in the near future? What about the long term?

Robyn: One thing of interest is visitors wanting to connect with the local people and the Hawaiian culture. They’re interested in more than checking a destination off their bucket list. They’re looking for authentic immersive experiences that will enrich their lives in some way. They’re looking for something different and unique to the destination.

That’s where Hawaii’s properties and attractions step up to offer authentic experiences. They often include a cultural or educational element. For example, cultural classes go beyond the typical lei making and hula lessons, to include other unique only in Hawaii activities such as thrownet fishing and coconut husking. We’re also seeing ocean activities weave culture and conservation into its program. With so many of our visitors looking for these experiences, the foundation of our marketing, promotion, and training effort is on the Hawaiian culture.

This has also lead to the development of our new marketing campaign Hawaii Rooted which focuses on the people who are keeping Hawaii’s local culture and native customs alive. These are the special places where the true spirit of Hawaii lives. These are the authentic stories – from the mythical to the modern – that are inspiring a new generation of Hawaii locals. This is a vision of the Hawaiian Islands that you’ve never seen before. Agents can view these videos on the site or can share them on their social channels from our You Tube Channel.

We have a Hawaiian destination specialist training program, a Mae Mae Hawaiian cultural tool kit, a festivals and events listing, as well as an audio language dictionary, all developed and on our travel professional website, that arm travel professionals with the knowledge and expertise to deliver these experiences that clients are looking for.

We’re also seeing an interest from Millennials that are wanting to visit Hawaii. As a matter of fact, Millennials are one of the fastest growing segments in their intentions on visiting Hawaii. This has resulted in our marketing efforts, not only to continue maintaining the strong babyboomer market, but, to also focus on those that have never been to Hawaii.

Steve: Could you tell us how you cater your advertising to Millennials?

Robyn: We’re working on our research. We’re focused on particular areas where we see a high propensity of people who fit our psychographics for the type of traveler. We do have a focus specifically on the New York market. We look to target these people who fit our traveler profile: a little bit of the younger demographic. We’re working with partners and focusing on initiatives in the New York market, bringing Hawaii to New York, where we’re seeing large concentration of the Millennials that fit our target traveler.

Steve: What are the most difficult decisions that you must make for promoting Hawaii?

Robyn: There are so many events and marketing opportunities available. With a limited budget and staff, it’s really imperative to evaluate events and partnerships that align with our strategy and our target audience. Sometimes it means saying no to certain opportunities. And, prioritizing initiatives that will ultimately deliver the best return on investment to the Hawaiian Islands.

Steve: What has been your greatest accomplishment in your career?

Robyn: I would have to say one of my greatest accomplishments was being honored as the Top Destination Supplier Representative Award in 2014 for Travel Agent Magazine. Agents were the ones nominating and voting. I was extremely humbled and honored to receive that recognition from the travel agent community that I’ve been fortunate enough to support for my entire professional career.

Steve: Are you involved with any volunteer or industry organizations?

Robyn: Our organization is a member of ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents). I’m also a member of ASTA and NACTA. I participate on ASTA’s Allied Marketing Committee. We work closely with the Travel Institute, as well as to provide continuing educational credits for agents that complete our Hawaii Destination Specialists Program. We also work closely with local Ohana organizations, which are regional groups of Hawaii suppliers that work together to promote and sell the Hawaiian Islands.

Steve: What about these organizations do you find yourself most passionate about?

Robyn: I’m definitely passionate about the value of travel professionals, as well as the importance of education in the travel industry. So being involved with ASTA and the Travel Institute helped me work with the wider community and work with like-minded travel executives to explore ways to promote the value and professionalism of travel agents.

Steve: How has volunteering affected you both personally and professionally?

Robyn: It has broadened my perspective on the industry, by meeting and working with incredibly smart and talented industry professionals from all sectors of the business. It has also given me a personal sense of fulfillment to give back to an industry that has brought me so much knowledge, joy, and friendships to my life.

Steve: What advice would you give to someone considering membership within a professional organization?

Robyn: I think it’s important to get involved in trade organizations. It helps educate you on key industry issues that impacts all of us. It also helps to develop lifelong professional relationships, growing and expanding your network.

Steve: In the classic saying, “I wish I knew what I know now, when I was younger,” what are some things that you wish you had known ahead of time?

Robyn: I wish I knew that the grass is not always greener on the other side. When I was younger, I was recruited, I moved jobs a few times for the promise of more money, and potentially better benefits. Then I learned, while those perks are nice to have, it’s most important to me, to love and to be passionate about what I do every day. As we spend the majority of our time working, you might as well be doing something you love. I’m so fortunate that I get to do that every single day in my position with HTUSA.

I would also stress the importance of picking out a great mentor, especially for those who are new to the business. I’m so grateful for incredible bosses and industry colleagues who have truly helped me get where I am today as a result of their advice and expertise.

Steve: What publications, blogs and materials about the travel industry would you recommend?

Robyn: I try to keep up with industry news on a consistent basis. I read all the major publications - Travel Weekly, TravelAge West, Travel Agent Magazine, as well as updates from the Hawaii Tourism Authority. I also keep up with agent blogs, to try to keep a pulse on the travel agents community. It could be one of those articles on LinkedIn, especially from Five Foldable. I also enjoy Ryan Estis, he’s an ad agency executive and keynote speaker.

Steve: What are some fun facts about yourself?

Robyn: I took up running in 2011, signing up for my very first marathon, before ever even running a 5k. Since then, I completed six full marathons and over 15 half-marathons, including a fun, 200 person relay race from Madison, Wisconsin to Chicago. Running has truly transformed my life.

I’m also a dog lover! We recently adopted a three year old, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Charlie. He is the light of our lives, and a social media sensation as well.

I’m from a small suburb outside of Chicago originally – Brookfield, Illinois. When I was 11 years-old, our girls softball team went to the World Series, in Michigan. When I was 12, we went to the central regional championship, in Indianapolis. My dad was one of the teams coaches. It really brought me closer to my dad and taught me the importance of dedication and teamwork and never giving up.