by Deanna Ting | February 01, 2013
Maui's culinary offerings are more than a little tempting

Last October, readers of Condé Nast Traveler voted Maui as the best island in the world — for a record 18th time. It’s that reputation for excellence, says Mike Masterson, director of sales and marketing for Starwood Maui, that sets Maui apart from the rest. 

“Maui has its own brand recognition,” Masterson explains. “People know the name, and even if they haven’t had a chance to visit, they know about it and they know that it’s a marquee destination. When they arrive here in Maui, they find the Hawaii that they expect to see and to feel.”

It’s that combination of natural beauty and a tranquil setting that makes Maui an ideal setting for meetings, says Sherry Duong, director of meetings, conventions, incentives, and international sales for the Maui Visitors & Convention Bureau. “Maui is where attendees come to feel rejuvenated — becoming like sponges, and being able to learn in a relaxed environment,” she says. “Maui has so much natural beauty and activities that meeting attendees can experience without having to overspend.”

Last year was a record one for Hawaiian tourism overall. The Hawaii Tourism Authority estimates that more than 7 million visitors arrived from January to November 2012, and while meeting visitor numbers may not have been robust in comparison to leisure traveler numbers, they were certainly on an upswing, according to Duong. “I think that groups are capitalizing on the ‘buyer’s market’ on the rates and availability,” she says. “The meetings and incentive market is on an incline, and slowly pulling out of the last 24 months of being reserved.” Masterson echoes Duong’s sentiments: “We’re starting to see more robust groups — in terms of size of room block and size of budget — as we look into 2014 and beyond,” he says. 

Duong says that groups coming to Maui are also interested in giving back to the local community through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives and programs. “More groups are incorporating CSR activities that benefit ecotourism, cultural education, and the local community through teambuilding,” she says. At the Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, a simple bicycle-building activity for a family-friendly meeting was one of the most memorable that Gale Fujiwara, director of catering and conference services, has seen in recent years. “They didn’t know what the bicycles were for but at the end, it was announced they were being donated to a local charity,” says Fujiwara. “It was wonderful.”

If anyone doubts that it’s possible to do business in such an idyllic location, Duong would disagree. “Having the opportunity to showcase Hawaii at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in 2011 has removed concerns that Hawaii is only a place of leisure, and showed that it can be a place of serious meetings,” she says.

Looking ahead, Maui is scheduled to welcome the brand-new, 15-acre, 297-room Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort & Spa in June, the first beach resort in the Andaz hotel collection. It will have 15,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space.

The island’s dedication to meetings shows in its variety of meetings-ready properties. Here’s a close look at just a few standouts.

Starwood Shines
The three Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide properties on Maui — the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, The Westin Maui Resort & Spa, and The Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas — are making it easier for meeting planners to host their events at each resort, according to Starwood’s Masterson. “We’ve centralized our sales process for Starwood here on Maui,” he says. “In the past, each property had its own sales team but now we have one that sells all three, so it makes it a seamless experience for our customers to book Starwood on Maui. We can match up each property to each group.”

Each of Starwood’s Maui properties is located in Kaanapali’s beachfront shores, within close proximity to the township of Lahaina and the shopping and restaurant district of Whaler’s Village. Just last year, the 508-room Sheraton Maui completed a $6.5 million room renewal that includes Wi-Fi connectivity in all rooms. Meeting spaces at the Sheraton range from the indoor 6,560-square-foot Maui Ballroom to the outdoor 12,000-square-foot Ocean Lawn, with views of the Pacific and Maui’s neighboring isles.

Over at the 759-room Westin Maui, the 17,000-square-foot indoor and outdoor function space called the Aloha Pavilion was recently renovated. Continual improvements are also being made to the 1,021-room Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas, a time-share property featuring condo-like accommodations including stocked kitchens that are ideal for family-friendly meetings.

More at Makena 
Just last fall, the 310-room, 1,800-acre beachfront Makena Beach & Golf Resort in Makena-Wailea completed its extensive two-year renovation program, which began in 2010 when the Landmark Hotels Group 
purchased the hotel. 

In addition to public space renovations, room updates, and new dining experiences, Makena now has an even wider variety of meeting and event spaces. One of the new additions includes the 47,500-square-foot outdoor oceanfront event venue South 16 Fairway, which sits on the 16th fairway of Makena’s now-closed south golf course, right at the water’s edge. 

For 2013, Makena is offering a number of meeting packages such as a $199 nightly room group rate for 10 or more rooms with a two-night minimum, as well as three group-inclusive packages starting at $315 per person, per night, that include an opening dinner and final night gala, cocktail receptions, and snorkel and beach rentals.    

Fairmont Focuses on Food and Culture
The 22-acre Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui, with 450 suites and villas, is focusing on offering its guests — both leisure- and business-minded — more options when it comes to eating healthfully and cultural immersion. Thanks to Fairmont Hotels and Resorts’ worldwide Lifestyle Cuisine Plus initiative, guests can find menus that cater to specific dietary needs — macrobiotic, raw, vegan, diabetic, and heart-healthy — at the Kea Lani’s restaurants, including the signature Ko. Here, the plantation cuisine-inspired eatery helmed by Executive Chef Tylun Pang is known for dishes that blend Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Korean, and Japanese influences together for Hawaii’s unique and distinct pastiche of flavors.

Recently, the readers of The Maui News voted the resort as having the island’s best Hawaiian cultural program led by Cultural Coach Jonelle Kamai. Activities include outrigger canoe paddling, Hawaiian language lessons, Hawaiian history classes, and monthly musical celebrations. The hotel often partners with culinary and music students from the University of Hawaii Maui College, to put on musical and 
culinary events as well.