Last updated: 06:44 PM ET, Thu August 11 2016

Youth Group Travel

How the Hawaiian Islands won the day for this teen group.

Agent@Home | Destination & Tourism | Stacey Barbara Martin

Youth Group Travel

PHOTO: The Upstage Productions Group spent a fun and educational day at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

For many families with teenagers, youth group travel is increasingly becoming part of their educational journey, often coinciding with their performing arts or athletic-educational programs. Indeed, the UNWTO Forecast expects the youth travel market to grow to $320 billion per year.

With near-perfect, year-round weather, a solid reputation for safety and friendliness, and a rich multi-ethnic community rooted in the values and traditions of the Native Hawaiian culture, the Hawaiian Islands makes for the perfect outdoor cultural classroom. So when Nicole Vogel of Boomerang Tours & Travel, in Salt Lake City, contacted me for suggestions on making Hawaii work for her 45-person youth group on a budget, I knew not only that it could be done but also that the Hawaiian Islands was likely to be one travel experience these young adults would never forget.

The Upstage Productions Group wanted to travel to a domestic destination that was easy to get to, unique and educational.

The group initially focused on traveling to historic and easily accessible Nauvoo, Ill., because it fit all their objectives, was new to the group and had a direct link to their religious beliefs as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Hawaii was not even on the radar until Vogel stepped in. Given her first-hand experience with Hawaii coupled with her in-destination relationships, she quickly positioned Hawaii as a better value for a similar cost. Because of the young ages of the group, additional family members were involved, including parents and siblings. This made keeping costs down essential to allow for multiple family members to join the group. Once she established Hawaii’s value from a budget and experiential perspective, Hawaii sold itself.


In similar scenarios with such a sharp focus on budget and the ease of staying close to home, Hawaii is often eliminated at the start. This is why I decided to share Nicole’s planning strategies and expertise with you, hoping to inspire a different perspective on the value and opportunity in today’s youth travel market. There’s attractive value to the destination as well because these young travelers are very likely to return to Hawaii in their lifetime for their honeymoon, as parents themselves with their children or as adult adventure seekers.

When planning this group’s itinerary, Nicole’s greatest initial challenge was the meal budget. All meals had to be included and the budget was $40 per person, per day. Was this even possible in Hawaii? This is where her determination kicked in. First, the inclusion of breakfast with a great room rate were the clear deciding factors for the selection of Aqua Aloha Surf in Waikiki.

READ MORE: Teen Scene Part 2 

While not on the beach, the Aqua Aloha Surf was in a great location in the center of the energy and excitement of Waikiki and close to shopping and restaurants. She also found Aqua to be a brand consumers are becoming more familiar with, giving her clients a comfort level, topped off with the superior service and support of the Aqua sales team, which was important to Nicole as the group planner.


With breakfast included at the hotel, Nicole tapped into the value of local restaurants for lunch and arranged pre-fixed group dinners at familiar favorites to teens such as the Hard Rock Cafe and Old Spaghetti Factory.

The additional advantage of working with teens, according to Nicole, is that “they haven’t quite developed five-star taste.” She says, “Something as simple as a pizza night that created a fun ‘party-like’ atmosphere allowed the teens to hang out and bond, but it also made extra money available for another dinner later in the week.”

Before Nicole got into the travel industry, she owned a performing studio and did an annual tour for her teenage students. Her 20-year experience working with teenagers led her to decide on planning a hike immediately after arriving at the Honolulu airport. She knew how restless active teens can be after a long flight. So upon leaving baggage claim, the group went straight to Diamond Head crater for a hike. Not only did this allow the teens to kick off their Hawaii trip with exercise, but it also set the tone for the entire trip — a combination of education and fun.


Hiking Diamond Head was the first component of an experiential itinerary designed to engage the active teens in the destination, while also providing ample time for service projects and performances. Thanks to her geographic knowledge of Oahu, Nicole strategically combined their Pearl Harbor visit with a performance at the Tripler Army Medical Center followed by a shopping visit to one of Hawaii’s largest swap meets (flea market) at the Aloha Stadium. On the way back to the hotel, the kids picked up boxed lunches from Subway, which opened up free time before their pizza party that night.

A visit to the Hawaiian Islands would not be complete without time to enjoy the beach, so Nicole obtained a group permit at the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve Park for an educational tour of this marine sanctuary. This helped her overcome the fact that no commercial vehicles are allowed at the park. With her destination expertise, Vogel also knew that the park is closed Tuesdays and scheduled the beach day accordingly.

Formed within a volcanic cone, Hanauma Bay is a protected marine life conservation area and underwater park and one of Hawaii’s premier locations for snorkeling. After their visit to Hanauma Bay, the group’s day at the beach continued with a return to Waikiki for additional free time and a sand castle-building contest.


Nicole set aside another day to visit one of the most sacred and culturally significant places on Oahu at the 1,800-acre Waimea Valley on the North Shore. Here the teens experienced sacred Ahupua’a. These are sections of land that were basic self-sustaining units for the ancient Hawaiians that extended elements of Hawaiian spirituality into the natural landscape, reflecting their beliefs that emphasized the interrelationship of elements and beings.

Tours can include an educational, guided cultural tour along the 1.5-mile nature walk to Waihi Falls, where visitors can swim in the waterfall pool. This continued combination of education and fun was the perfect approach to keeping teenagers engaged and excitement high.

Knowing that Nauvoo, Ill., was originally a top pick based on its direct connection to the group’s Mormon faith, Nicole planned a day on Oahu’s North Shore that included a visit to the Latter Day Saints’ Laie Temple followed by a full day of more education and fun at the nearby Polynesian Cultural Center.

There, the teens visited seven Polynesian villages showcasing the islands of Samoa, Aotearoa, Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti and Hawaii, enjoyed a canoe pageant, shopped at the new Hukilau Marketplace, took part in the Alii luau and took in the “Ha: Breath of Life” night show in the center’s amphitheater. Although the Polynesian Cultural Center was the highest-priced experience on the itinerary, when judged by the value of the group’s full-day experience, it was a wise investment of both their budget and their time.


As you think about opportunity markets to grow your business, Nicole Vogel hopes that by sharing the details of this most recent youth group to Hawaii inspires others to consider the Hawaiian Islands as a perfect destination for the youth travel market.

“Teenagers and young adults are full of life and that makes the Hawaiian Islands a great fit for them,” says Vogel. “Youthful, healthy and eager to see everything makes it fun to plan this type of group.”

Her final piece of advice: “Do your research and make sure you can deliver. Leave a little wiggle room in your budget to add on the ‘nice to haves’ and be realistic with what you offer. It’s always better to underpromise and overdeliver. For the Hawaiian Islands, over-delivering in value and experience is its strongest competitive edge.“

If you’d like a copy of the additional insider tips I shared with Nicole during the planning process or further mentoring in the marketing and selling of youth group travel to the Hawaiian Islands, feel free to email me at

You can also contact Nicole Vogel, 801-243-3025 and


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Agent@Home Magazine

A version of this article appears in print in the July 2015 issue of Agent@Home Magazine.