Sports Travel Hawaii: 2022 SmallBiz Editor’s Choice Award Winner – Travel
After pandemic setbacks, this travel company catering to youth, high school and university athletic teams is rallying back.
Linelle Hanawahine jinxed herself.
The founder of Sports Travel Hawaii was tired of the constant requests for her services and wished out loud for them to momentarily stop. That was in March 2020, just before the pandemic reached the Islands.
“I would never say that again,” she says, adding that the company had to deal with cancellations and rerouted travel plans all the way through December 2020. “That would have been one of the best volume years yet.”
Hanawahine says she started the family-run travel agency in 2009 after noticing that Hawai‘i lacked an athletics-focused company to serve youth, high school and university sports teams. It expanded every year until the pandemic, fueled by referrals and repeat customers.
Sports Travel currently has four full-time and two part-time employees, including Hanawahine’s son and daughter. The dynamic has been a mix of struggle and reward, she says.
On one hand, family members get to make their own hours and are incentivized to see the business grow. On the other, they have their own personalities and visions for the business, which leads to contention, Hanawahine says. Despite that, she calls it a fair trade-off and says the company is “a good environment for them.”
The company makes its money through commission-based agreements with airlines, hotels, car rental companies and cruise lines. These contracts allow it to stay competitive with other travel agencies, even with the growth of the internet and self-service travel bookings, Hanawahine says.
She hopes to expand Sports Travel by developing a sister company that handles other forms of travel, such as for weddings and family reunions.
In 2021, the company earned just a third of its normal revenue. The demand was mostly driven by families entering their children in sports-related tournaments and showcases on the mainland.
“The Hawai‘i people were just like: ‘We need to go,’ ” Hanawahine recalls her clients saying.
And this time, she was grateful for those calls and emails.