PORT ALLEN — Tour-boat company Holo Holo Charters was recently voted as the second-best boat tour in the nation by the USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice Award contest.
“So proud, and honored,” General Manager Chandra Bertsch said. “It’s really a great accomplishment and recognition for our company and our entire team who works really hard to create an exceptional visitor experience for our guests.”
After a year of being closed due to the pandemic, Bertsch said they were able to reopen in May when Kaua‘i rejoined the Safe Travels program. However, she said they faced some obstacles along the way.
“Having to lay off almost all of our team was heartbreaking, devastating. We work hard to build a really strong team,” Bertsch said. “We all depend on each other to get each aspect of our job done, so letting go of basically these people that are like ‘ohana to us, and just not knowing what the future holds, was really tough.”
She continued: “We still got some holes to fill, but we’re almost fully staffed up. Pre-COVID we ran around 60 employees, and I’d say we’re almost there again.”
Coming in on the list are boat tours ranging from steamboat river cruises in Nevada to wildlife and glacier tours in Alaska.
“We would like to have been voted No. 1, but hey, Chicago must have a really great boat tour!” said Kit Furderer, marketing manager at Holo Holo Charters. “All jokes aside, we are very flattered and honored to be included on this list with these other distinguished tour-boat companies.”
A panel of travel experts picked 20 nominees for Best Boat Tour, and announced them on their website, 10Best.com, on May 1. The panel included a combination of editors from USA TODAY, editors from 10Best.com, relevant expert contributors, and sources for both media properties. For four weeks, the public was invited to browse the 20 boat tours and vote online for one nominee each day.
Holo Holo Charters was established on Kaua‘i in 1997, and runs daily boat tours and sunset cruises to the world-famous Napali Coast and snorkeling tours to Ni‘ihau and Lehua.
Captain and Operations Manager Wendell Merritt said he feels privileged to be a part of HHC for 13 years.
“We definitely strive to be the best,” Merritt said. “It’s an awesome feeling to know that we are the best.”
The company takes Kaua‘i visitors and residents alike on sailing, snorkeling and sightseeing tours along the coast that boasts dramatic, 3,500-foot cliffs, emerald valleys, sea caves, arches, secluded beaches, waterfalls, rainbows, dolphins, turtles and humpback whales (seasonally).
For those who plan on booking a tour, Bertsch said they have to be up for an adventure.
“Checks-in’s bright and early start, but it’s seven hours on the water, which can be a long day, so it’s not for everybody,” Bertsch said.
“But those who can handle it are well-rewarded. The main reason we head over to Ni‘ihau is for the snorkeling.”
Bertsch said she is passionate about Kaua‘i and its beauty, which is the reason she loves her job.
“The heartbeat of this place,” Bertsch said, “and being able to share that with our visitors, is so special. We get a lot of time with our visitors. Our captain and crew really get to know the people, and get to have conversations with them. And we take our responsibility to educate our visitors very seriously. So anything we can impart on them, like not wearing toxic sunscreens or drinking bottled water, so we don’t hurt the reef or environment,” the company does, she said.
According to Bertsch, visitors don’t just come out here for a great view. Instead, they really get to connect with the place.
“And we all know Napali is, I think one of the most-special places on the planet,” Bertsch said.
“I think that really helps build connections with a visitor that this isn’t just a cool place for a vacation. But this is a beautiful place to experience. And if we can impart a little bit of the sustainability topic with them as well, I think that’s really important because they see it firsthand.”
Stephanie Shinno, education and business reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.