Head of Major Maui Resort Says Incentives Are Coming Back

The managing director of one of Maui’s biggest incentive and meetings resorts says 2011 has been a rebound year for group business and is bullish about 2012 and 2013. Specifically, Matt Bailey of the 780-room Grand Wailea is confident that the islands’ incentive travel business will rise because he says companies have realized that eliminating programs in the past couple of recessionary years actually hurt business. 

“I’ve heard people say, ‘We’ll never see that again,’ but we have. Incentives will be back because they work,“ says Bailey, who is also an at-large director for the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association, during a visit to Successful Meetings’ New York headquarters. “The business travel industry has been doing a better job of making the argument for meetings.” 

Bailey says while group business has been returning this year, 2012 bookings “are significantly better” and “2013 is looking very promising” at the property, part of the Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts collection. He acknowledges that per-group spending remains conservative, “but it’s rebounding with larger groups,” noting some return of programs with celebrity entertainment. 

But more critically, he says, companies are making sure their programs have quality business components. Says Bailey: “They want their people to have fun, but because they’re bringing them all this way [to Hawaii], business will get done. Program content needs to be relevant in these economic times, and those groups that maximize program and content quality are the successful ones.” 

That is not just because of a continued sense of corporate spending scrutiny by the mainstream media, but also people are “time-poor” these days, he notes. 

The timing of the bounce-back is right, as the Grand Wailea has been celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Located on the southwestern side of Maui, the resort has more than 100,000 square feet of group event and meeting space, including the 28,000-square-foot Haleakala Ballroom, claimed to be the biggest on Maui. The resort sits on the crescent-shaped Wailea Beach and offers a nine-pool water park and a host of outdoor event spaces. 

Leading those options in size is the 22,964-square-foot Molokini Garden, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and a saltwater lagoon on the other. Planners can plan for tiki torches and count on dramatic lava rock walls for outdoor receptions of up to 2,500 participants.

In addition, the Grand Wailea features a massive 50,000-square-foot spa with 40 treatment rooms. The appropriately named Spa Grande boasts 100 treatments, along with extensive hydrotherapy facilities and a fitness center. The spa also has a large rotunda that is available as an event space; fashion shows have been held there.

“We do a little bit of everything,” Bailey says, referring to small board meetings and big association meetings, but adds, “we’re best suited for incentives.” The Grand Wailea can host groups from 50 to 2,000 attendees, and in past solid years, the property has done from 85,000 to 90,000 room nights in incentive group business. 

Approximately February 2012, the resort will welcome a new restaurant by James Beard Award-wining chef and restaurateur Alan Wong. The new restaurant will replace the former Kincha restaurant, the original dining venue that opened along with the resort's opening. Wong's restaurant will feature a freshly designed floor plan and interior.