Hola and Aloha
|Ole Tours' owner |
Juan Carlos Bianchetti
photo by Karin Kovalsky
In his native argentina, Juan Carlos Bianchetti owned a wholesale business, selling blankets, sheets and towels to hotels and hospitals. He frequently traveled to Brazil, importing goods because of its strong textile industry. The experience provided good international business training, but he also became fluent in Portuguese, something that would prove profitable years later in Hawaii.
Bianchetti, who also picked up English along the way, is now the trilingual owner of Olé Tours Hawaii, a company that caters to Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking tourists. When it came to Hawaii tourism, Bianchetti didn’t want to compete head-on with companies targeting visitor mainstays, American and Japanese tourists. The market was already crowded.
But for Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking travelers there was only one company, Oahu-based Soltur, and he worked for them.
He started with Soltur shortly after leaving his country’s unstable economic climate and moving to the Islands in 1995. Seeing ample opportunity in the underserved market, Bianchetti and his wife Svetlana broke out on their own and started Olé Tours in 2000. By 2004, Soltur folded and Olé Tours found itself the sole Hawaii travel company focused on Spanish and Portuguese speakers.
The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism reports 215,000 Latin Americans visited Hawaii in 2006, though it has no numbers on Spain and Portugal. However, Bianchetti estimates between 100,000 to 200,000 visitors from his target countries arrive in Hawaii each year.
As a travel wholesaler, Olé Tours sells hotel bookings, transportation, tours and activities to other travel wholesalers in Spain, Portugal and several Latin American countries. Since many of the company’s customers do not speak English, Olé Tours also offers personal tours. All of Olé Tours’ guides are trilingual.
They escort travelers from the airport and into their hotel rooms, eliminating the language barrier to ensure their customers get the rooms they booked. Tour vans only accommodate 14 people, and customers can decide on where to eat or how long they want to snap photos.
Olé Tours only serves Oahu and operates out of the Bianchetti’s home in Hawaii Kai, but the company is expanding. The company will begin services on Maui by early 2008, once Olé Tours receives state PUC (Public Utilities Commission) approval. He believes many of Olé Tours’ customers go to Oahu because that is where the company is based. Olé Tours’ customer base has grown every year, serving 4,800 customers in 2005 and nearly 6,000 in 2007.
“If I had Spanish-speaking services in another island, it will encourage (travel wholesalers and agencies) to sell it much more,” Bianchetti says.
Ultimately, he would like to set up services on the Big Island and Kauai. He also is looking for office space in Waikiki, and hopes to set up online booking on his Web site by the end of 2007. His main focus, however, is on marketing. Unlike the Japanese or North American market, the Hawaii Tourism Authority has not made a concentrated effort to promote Hawaii to Latin America or Europe. Without aid from the government, Bianchetti spends 5 percent of his budget on marketing, much more than most companies. Every year, he attends trade shows and travels to his target countries. “Europe is key for us right now,” Bianchetti says.
He’s also focusing on Argentina and Brazil, in hopes that they receive admission into the U.S. visa waiver program. Nationals from countries on the visa waiver program can travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days with only a passport.
For now, he’s still got his hands full as the only Spanish and Portuguese travel promoter in town.
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