Car rental agency

Sports Travel Hawaii: 2022 SmallBiz Editor’s Choice Award Winner – Travel

After the setbacks of the pandemic, this travel agency that caters to youth sports teams, high schools and universities is pulling itself together.
Left to right: Kyra Hanawahine, Kalei Hanawahine and Linelle Hanawahine of Sports Travel Hawaii. | Photo: Aaron Yoshino

Linelle Hanawahine bewitched herself.

The founder of Sports Travel Hawaii was fed up with the constant requests for her services and wished aloud that they would stop for a moment. It was March 2020, just before the pandemic hit the Islands.

“I would never say that again,” she says, adding that the company had to deal with cancellations and rerouted travel plans throughout December 2020. “It would have been one of the best years of volume to date.”

Hanawahine says she started the family travel company in 2009 after noticing that Hawai’i lacked an athletics-focused business to serve youth, high school and college sports teams. It grew every year until the pandemic, fueled by referrals and loyal 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.

For one thing, family members can make their own hours and are incentivized to see the business grow. On the other hand, they have their own personalities and visions of the business, which leads to discord, says Hanawahine. Despite this, she calls it a fair trade-off and says the company is “a good environment for them.”

The company earns its money through commission 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 weddings and family reunions.

In 2021, the company achieved only a third of its normal turnover. The demand was mainly driven by families registering their children in sports-related tournaments and showcases on the continent.

“Hawaiians were just like, ‘We have to go,'” Hanawahine recalled her customers saying.

And this time, she was grateful for those calls and emails.