If last year's tourism numbers were any
indication, it's safe to say that Hawaii is back in a big way.
According to Hawaii's CVB, a record of nearly 8 million total
visitors, an increase of 9.6 percent from 2011, came to Hawaii
in 2012, exceeding the previous high of 7.6 million visitors in
2006. After suffering major losses in visitor arrivals
following the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing AIG Effect
that followed, the Hawaiian Isles seemed too out of reach - too
far away, too expensive, and not business-minded enough, many
assumed - to be considered for meetings and incentives.
"We set a record for tourism in 2012, and a big part of that
was the meetings market," says Michael Murray, vice president
of Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau's meetings,
conventions, and incentives division. Murray estimates that
meetings, conventions, and incentives comprise 8 percent of
total visitors. Having Hawaii host the 2011 Asia-Pacific
Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference, he says, also helped
transform long-held assumptions about Hawaii's ability to serve
as a serious place for business and meetings.
"We're looking at a very positive 2013 at the moment from the
groups and meetings side of the business," says Rodger
MacDonald, director of sales and marketing for Hilton Waikoloa
Village. "Hawaii took a bit of a hit in the downturn over the
last few years but we're really rebounding. Last year was a
fairly good year and 2013 is appearing to be even more robust;
we anticipate exceeding 18 to 20 percent growth. The
marketplace seems to be finding its way back to the islands."
"Hawaii has really gained a lot of momentum with the North
American associations market, especially for those that are
working globally and have a mission to grow their membership,
particularly in the Asia-Pacific region," explains Murray.
Randy Tanaka, interim executive director of sales and marketing
for the Hawaii Convention Center, agrees with Murray, saying,
"Hawaii is in a unique position, and the objectives for
organizations hosting meetings in Hawaii often need to include
an Asia-Pacific agenda."
Brad Logsdon, director of sales and marketing for Hilton
Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, says he's seen "a growth
in the number of medical conventions from the mainland with
huge membership from Asia-Pacific." Logsdon adds: "They're
starting to see a benefit to having meetings in a central
location that's a half-way point between Asia-Pacific and the
rest of the continents." In February, his hotel played host to
a group from the American Heart Association.
Hawaii's unique blend of cultures, many from the Pacific Rim is
yet another "compelling reason for groups to come to Hawaii,"
according to Murray. He says, "We're the 50th state, but
there's still an international feel about the islands."
Incorporating a uniquely Hawaiian sense of place is essential
for many of today's meeting and incentive groups to the
islands. "What the groups want are experiential kinds of
meetings," says Lois Geddes, regional director of sales and marketing for the Sheraton Kona Resort
& Spa at Keauhou Bay (formerly known as the Sheraton
Keauhou Bay). "Not only are they meeting and learning from a
meetings standpoint, but they want to experience the spot that
they're in. So we really build themes around what they want to
do, like manta ray dives, zipline tours, or Kona coffee
plantation visits," says Geddes. At the Sheraton Kona, a
cultural director has also developed a variety of cultural
programs for groups.
Here's a closer look at two of Hawaii's most popular
destinations - Oahu and Hawaii Island (formerly known as the
Big Island) - and the newest developments transforming the
sophisticated meetings market on both of these alluring isles.
The Gathering Place Evolves
Oahu, also known fondly as "the gathering place," retains that
title by continuing to evolve in order to meet the demands of
today's travelers and meeting attendees. Waikiki, in
particular, has seen a rather dramatic transformation in the
past few years, says Jim Palank, director of sales and
marketing for The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort.
"The infrastructure has changed so much over the last four
years. There are upscale restaurants and beautiful upscale
shopping that you never had before," he says. "When I talk to
meeting planners who haven't been to Oahu lately, I tell them
they'll be surprised by what they see. It's changed so much,
and there are so many more activity options for people to do,
all within walking distance of their hotels."
One of the newest additions to the general Waikiki area was the
arrival of The Modern Honolulu, which initially opened as
Marriott's very first Edition hotel in Fall 2010. (It was
purchased from Marriott International in 2011 by the same
investment firm that owns Hawaii-based Aqua Hotels and
Resorts.) The boutique-style hotel, which has 350 rooms, has
more than 13,000 square feet of meeting and function space, as
well as Morimoto Waikiki, a restaurant from Iron Chef Masaharu
Morimoto. The hotel, says Kelly Kitashima, director of group
sales, is unique in that it isn't for everybody.
"We know that we have a niche market - we're a very
cutting-edge and stylish hotel. Our hotel is for groups that
appreciate a design concept of personalized space." She says
the hotel does well with smaller groups because they feel like
they're the only group on property. "Even if you're a group of
150, you feel like you're exclusive. You're not one out of five
or 10 other groups."
In addition to newer properties, many of Oahu's favorite
accommodations and attractions have also seen major
refreshments. In February, Waikiki's Hilton Hawaiian Village
completed the first phase of a $25.5-million renovation of its
Ali'i Tower, which comprises 325 guest rooms. All rooms now
have new finishes and furnishings, brand-new bathrooms, and
upgraded common areas. The final phase of the project, which
includes upgrades to the second-floor Ocean View Terrace, is
scheduled for completion in May. Last fall, the Hilton Hawaiian
Village also completed a $7.6-million makeover of its
27,054-square-foot Coral Ballroom.
In October 2012, Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach completed an
$18-million renovation that included a newly remodeled
oceanfront pool and expanded pool-deck area, as well as
upgrades to its 524 guest rooms and suites. All oceanfront
rooms and suites now feature brand-new glass lanai railings,
and improved soundproofing was added between all guest rooms.
Last December, the Bishop Museum reopened its J. Watumull
Planetarium following a three-and-a-half month, $1.5-million
renovation that added new technological features designed to
make the planetarium look and feel more realistic in its
representation of the night skies and galaxy. The 70-seat
planetarium is available to meetings groups that need a
theater-style setting. Other available venue spaces at the
Bishop Museum include multiple gardens, courtyards, and a
The Big Island Continues to Grow
Hawaii Island, the youngest and largest of the Hawaiian isles, continues to increase its offerings for
meetings groups as well, and it stands out for its dramatic
landscapes and variety of experiences. "There's a real beauty
to the Big Island," says Hilton Waikoloa Village's McDonald.
"They call it 'the Big Island' for a reason, and it has such a
diverse geography - from white-sand beaches to active volcanoes. It takes you quite a bit of time to explore,
which makes it the perfect retreat for any business traveler."
On the Kona (west) side of the island, where the climate is
drier than in Hilo on the eastern coast, the Sheraton Kona
Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay just recently completed its
$20-million renewal in September 2012. "Everything has been
redone," says Sheraton Kona's Geddes. The resort's meeting
spaces, including its nearly 10,000-square-foot ballroom, was
also completely renovated with new carpeting, chandeliers,
drapery, and walls. One of the resort's best outdoor venues,
says Geddes, is the Pa'akai Point, a platform perched above
lava cliffs, overlooking the ocean on three sides. With the
renovation, it now has palm trees and a manicured grass lawn,
and is able to accommodate up to 250 attendees for views of the
sunset, dolphins, and resident manta rays.
In Hilo, the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel is set to begin a $4.1-million
renovation beginning in the second quarter of 2013, following a
$1.2-million refreshment that included upgrades to the hotel's conference center facilities, restaurant and lounge. The new renovations will
include upgrades to guest rooms, the elevator system, and a
solar energy system.
Back on the Kona side of Hawaii Island, the 62-acre Hilton
Waikoloa Village resort continues to invest in its
infrastructure and offerings for meetings groups. Over the past
10 years, the Hilton Waikoloa Village has spent more than $150
million various refreshments and renovations for the property,
including HD TVs, Wi-Fi, and high-speed Internet in all rooms
Health and Tech in Paradise
A growing trend that Kitashima sees among groups that visit The
Modern Honolulu is a desire to "incorporate health and
wellness" by utilizing the on-site spa, requesting healthful
foods like yogurt parfait bars, or even adding treadmills to
meeting rooms and spaces. At Waikiki's The Kahala Hotel &
Resort, not far from The Modern Honolulu, General Manager
Roseanne Grippo echoes Kitashima's observations: "Business
travelers are much more health- and wellness-conscious than in
years gone by. The ability to do healthy teambuilding
challenges is also great."
On the other side of Oahu, properties like the North Shore's
Turtle Bay Resort are also seeing a growing demand for meetings
that emphasize wellness. "A lot of our groups like to do
'workcations' here," explains Frank Lonardo, director of sales
for Turtle Bay Resort. "It's the freedom to take your work on
the road while still enjoying teambuilding and other activities
that give you a vacation experience. It means more flexible
schedules for meetings, a relaxed and positive atmosphere, and
it promotes adventure and wellness. You work in the morning and
then you can enjoy all the activities that we have."
Being able to stay connected via smartphone or tablet, whether
for work or pleasure, is also of utmost importance to meeting
attendees, says Geddes. "The meeting attendees that I see at
the Sheraton Kona aren't toting laptops around anymore," she
says. "It's all about the tablet and smartphone experience, and
they expect to be connected at all times - whether they're in a
meeting room or by the pool."