Oahu and Hawaii Island: Historic Milestones and New Developments

Hawaii Convention Center outdoor space

Sun and fun may be the typical reasons travelers consider visiting Hawaii Island and Oahu. But there are also a number of historic and cultural reasons why these destinations may be attracting groups this year.

"Many of our iconic experiences will be celebrating a major milestone in 2016," says Marie Watanabe, director of sales for Oahu Visitors Bureau, pointing to the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the National Park Service centennial (Oahu's WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument includes nine historic sites, including the USS Arizona Memorial and Battleship Missouri Memorial), and the 100th anniversary of the King Kamehameha Celebration Floral Parade. "There are many 'once in a lifetime' events planned around these milestones."

To meet the growing demand the destination is seeing from groups, the island has experienced a burgeoning room inventory in recent months. This year, more than 1,300 rooms will be added, or returned after renovation, to Oahu, thanks to the opening of the Hilton Garden Inn Waikiki Beach, Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina, and The Ritz Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach. Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa recently completed a $22 million renovation, complete with new lobby, registration area, ballroom, and meeting spaces.

The island is also adding venues to attract new groups and perennial visitors. These include the lounge and nightlife spot SKY Waikiki, Tommy Bahama Waikiki (a three-level restaurant, bar, and store, which opened last October), and the 9,000-square-foot jazz club and restaurant Blue Note Hawaii. Another spot groups can tour is the Kualoa Private Nature Reserve -- home of last summer's massive hit Jurassic World.

And of course there is the Hawaii Convention Center, encompassing more than 1 million square feet, with a wide range of flexible meeting space. The convention center has made Hawaii's stunning outdoors a central part of its offerings, with terraces, courtyards, lanais, waterfalls, and fishponds spread throughout the vast property.

 

It makes sense that with this showcasing of the outdoors, the Hawaii Convention Center has also made environmental sustainability a top priority. It received a Green Event Award from the State of Hawaii in 2013 for its wide-ranging initiatives, such as energy conservation (including a canvas-like sail on the rooftop that helps capture and circulate the island's tradewinds to cool the facility) and air quality (with electric carts, self-pedal bicycles, and propane-powered lifts used by the staff).

Last year, the Hawaii Convention Center launched a new partnership program with a number of local hotel brands, allowing the hotels to maximize occupancy levels by hosting group room blocks while using the convention center's meeting space. AEG Facilities, which manages the venue, also extended invitations to meeting planners at other venues managed by AEG (including in Los Angeles and Australia), to visit the Hawaii venue.

Thanks to its expansive offerings, the Hawaii Convention Center has been drawing some sizable events. This month, it will host the First Hawaiian International Auto Show, with 60,000 visitors in attendance. Next month will see 12,000 guests descend on the venue for anime convention Kawaii Kon.

Of course, holding a meeting on Oahu should also include some shopping.

"Shopping options continue to expand in Oahu," says Watanabe, describing how the second phase of the Ala Moana Center's Ewa Wing Expansion will open in March 2016, and the International Market Place will open in August 2016. "These shopping experiences were carefully developed to combine an urban shopping experience and selection with Hawaii's unique sense of place and storytelling, allowing groups to enjoy shopping that can only be experienced in Hawaii."

With this expansion, Ala Moana Center, the world's largest open-air shopping center, with 2.4 million square feet of retail space, completes its mall-wide refresh -- including new finishes, lighting, flooring, and updated color palettes throughout. The transformation of the west (Ewa) end of the center has turned it into a three-level mega-mall, boasting some 650,000 square feet of new retail (including a 167,000-square-foot Bloomingdale's), dining, and entertainment offerings.  

For those interested in new culinary attractions, groups have a growing number of options as well. The husband-and-wife team behind MW Restaurant recently opened Artizen, offering high-end grab-and-go dishes, located on the ground floor of the Hawaii State Art Museum. At the start of the year, mixologist Justin Park opened his Bar Leather Apron in downtown Honolulu. The cocktail lounge blends the speakeasy aesthetics of Osaka, Japan, and prohibition-era New York City, creating an intimate and comfortable feel.


Big Island Attractions 
It's also a good year for groups to visit Hawaii Island -- as is every year, according to Big Island Visitors Bureau Executive Director Ross Birch.

"It's always a great time to visit the Island of Hawaii," he says. "The island is one of diversity, and there is something for everyone. The west side boasts year-round great weather and there are many outdoor event space options."

He gives the example of the upcoming relaunch of Grand Naniloa Hotel, in Hilo, after a $20 million renovation, adding more hotel rooms to the island's east side, when it will be rebranded as a DoubleTree by Hilton. The property's 20,000 square feet of flexible meeting space includes breakout areas such as a large ballroom (which holds 400 people) and a gazebo, which boast hard-to-beat views of Hilo Bay and the Hamakua coastline.

Visitors to the Grand Naniloa can also enjoy complimentary golf on Hilo's only nine-hole practice course, a waterfront restaurant, a poolside bar, a new fitness center, and shops. The property offers curated cultural activities and tours, and local entertainment in the hotel's exclusive concert hall, for meeting breaks with a Hawaii Island flair.

"In addition to great airfares and more non-stop seats, some hotels have special offers for groups, such as Hilton Waikoloa's all-inclusive dining package for meeting attendees and Mauna Lani Bay Hotel's new promotional offer for bookings of 25 peak-night rooms or more," adds Birch.

Queens' MarketPlace at Waikoloa Beach Resort has added a new "coffee pub," Daylight Mind Coffee Company, which serves brunch, happy hour, and lunch in a casual indoor-outdoor setting throughout the day. It takes full advantage of Hawaii's rich supply of coffee, specializing in coffees from the state and around the world, grinding coffee beans in-house at its Kailua-Kona location (where it also bakes fresh breads and pastries daily). Another addition to Waikoloa is the new Mai Grille, located at the Kings' Golf Course. The dining spot features a menu that includes house-cured bacon and smoked meats, and is open for breakfast and lunch daily, and brunch on Sundays.

The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and its sister property, the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, have introduced special group values to make meetings easier for visitors. The package includes guaranteed ocean-view rooms at special group rates, complimentary in-room Internet access, a one-bedroom suite upgrade for every 50 room nights booked, one complimentary round of golf for a VIP group of four, and a 10 percent discount off banquet menus. The offer is valid for new group inquiries with a minimum of 25 rooms and a minimum three-night stay.

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel has also recently completed a $4.5 million renovation of its own, with an upgrade to its Copper Bar. Copper plate and marine rope create a past-meets-present aesthetic, and skylights provide natural light from the lobby above. Visitors can enjoy craft cocktails (which incorporate local ingredients) as well as beer, wine, and casual fare.

The nearby Kauna'oa Bar & Grill has been transformed to Kauna'oa Ballroom. The 3,500-square-foot ballroom, which seats up to 220 banquet style and 390 theater style, features floor-to-ceiling windows with stunning views of Kauna'oa Bay.

For those who want to get closer to the waters of the Kauna'oa Bay, the Beach Club at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is now offering Glow SUP (standup paddleboards). Those who sign up can take their boards into the peaceful waters to stargaze and, using LED lights, get a nighttime view of local ocean life, including manta rays, within a 15-foot radius of the board. The hour-long experience is offered several days a week and is available for groups to engage for a private event.

For a larger type of ocean life, groups can take advantage of the annual return of the humpback whales to Hawaii's waters with

 

Kohala Tours' whale-watching cruise, hopping aboard one of the group's eco-friendly catamarans and heading into the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Ocean Sports has also introduced five new whale-watching cruises. These outings, which combine expert naturalists, an underwater hydrophone, and spacious catamarans, include a "Snorkel and Whale Watch Adventure Cruise" and a "Sail with the Whales Cruise," as well as a "Whales and Cocktails Sunset Cruise."

Oahu Visitors Bureau's Marie Watanabe expects to see Hawaii continue to attract interest from groups as it offers the logistical simplicity of a domestic destination with the excitement and exotic feel of somewhere international.

Or as Watanabe puts it: "With a national trend towards reevaluating and returning to domestic travel, Oahu is one of the most exotic destinations where groups can experience a unique host culture, year-round warm weather, unrivaled natural beauty, world-class resorts, and iconic venues and experiences while staying within the comforts of domestic travel."



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the March 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.

WHERE TO: HAWAII ISLAND
SHOP - Waimea Homestead Farmers Market
With such a wealth of natural vegetation, Hawaii Island is home to a number of top-notch farmers markets. One of the most popular is the Waimea Homestead Farmers Market, open every Saturday, offering such treats as local raw honey, locally grown herbs, and Kona coffee.

SEE - Rainbow Falls
This stunning, 80-foot waterfall gets its name from the fact that a visit early in the morning often provides a sighting of a rainbow in its surrounding mist. It's easy to reach, located near Downtown Hilo, and worth adding to a group's itinerary.

MEET - Hulihee Palace
Originally built in 1838 and once the summer vacation home for the royalty of Hawaii, this grand space now serves as a museum that holds the artifacts of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapi'olani. It can also be secured for events of all types.

ESSENTIAL Tool Box
CONVENTION CENTERS & FACILITIES
Hawaii Convention Center (1.1 million sf)

ROOM TAX
13.962 percent (9.25 percent state tax, plus 4.712 percent excise tax)


READERS RECOMMEND

Pinnacle Awards Go To:

 Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau
 Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort
 The Kahala Hotel & Resort
 Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
 The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort
 Sheraton Waikiki


Big Island Attractions 
It's also a good year for groups to visit Hawaii Island -- as is every year, according to Big Island Visitors Bureau Executive Director Ross Birch.

"It's always a great time to visit the Island of Hawaii," he says. "The island is one of diversity, and there is something for everyone. The west side boasts year-round great weather and there are many outdoor event space options."

He gives the example of the upcoming relaunch of Grand Naniloa Hotel, in Hilo, after a $20 million renovation, adding more hotel rooms to the island's east side, when it will be rebranded as a DoubleTree by Hilton. The property's 20,000 square feet of flexible meeting space includes breakout areas such as a large ballroom (which holds 400 people) and a gazebo, which boast hard-to-beat views of Hilo Bay and the Hamakua coastline.

Visitors to the Grand Naniloa can also enjoy complimentary golf on Hilo's only nine-hole practice course, a waterfront restaurant, a poolside bar, a new fitness center, and shops. The property offers curated cultural activities and tours, and local entertainment in the hotel's exclusive concert hall, for meeting breaks with a Hawaii Island flair.

"In addition to great airfares and more non-stop seats, some hotels have special offers for groups, such as Hilton Waikoloa's all-inclusive dining package for meeting attendees and Mauna Lani Bay Hotel's new promotional offer for bookings of 25 peak-night rooms or more," adds Birch.

Queens' MarketPlace at Waikoloa Beach Resort has added a new "coffee pub," Daylight Mind Coffee Company, which serves brunch, happy hour, and lunch in a casual indoor-outdoor setting throughout the day. It takes full advantage of Hawaii's rich supply of coffee, specializing in coffees from the state and around the world, grinding coffee beans in-house at its Kailua-Kona location (where it also bakes fresh breads and pastries daily). Another addition to Waikoloa is the new Mai Grille, located at the Kings' Golf Course. The dining spot features a menu that includes house-cured bacon and smoked meats, and is open for breakfast and lunch daily, and brunch on Sundays.

The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and its sister property, the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, have introduced special group values to make meetings easier for visitors. The package includes guaranteed ocean-view rooms at special group rates, complimentary in-room Internet access, a one-bedroom suite upgrade for every 50 room nights booked, one complimentary round of golf for a VIP group of four, and a 10 percent discount off banquet menus. The offer is valid for new group inquiries with a minimum of 25 rooms and a minimum three-night stay.

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel has also recently completed a $4.5 million renovation of its own, with an upgrade to its Copper Bar. Copper plate and marine rope create a past-meets-present aesthetic, and skylights provide natural light from the lobby above. Visitors can enjoy craft cocktails (which incorporate local ingredients) as well as beer, wine, and casual fare.

The nearby Kauna'oa Bar & Grill has been transformed to Kauna'oa Ballroom. The 3,500-square-foot ballroom, which seats up to 220 banquet style and 390 theater style, features floor-to-ceiling windows with stunning views of Kauna'oa Bay.

For those who want to get closer to the waters of the Kauna'oa Bay, the Beach Club at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is now offering Glow SUP (standup paddleboards). Those who sign up can take their boards into the peaceful waters to stargaze and, using LED lights, get a nighttime view of local ocean life, including manta rays, within a 15-foot radius of the board. The hour-long experience is offered several days a week and is available for groups to engage for a private event.

For a larger type of ocean life, groups can take advantage of the annual return of the humpback whales to Hawaii's waters with

 

Outdoor and underwater activities,
inclduing snorkeling, are a must
in Hawaii
Outdoor and underwater activities, inclduing snorkeling, are a must in Hawaii

Kohala Tours' whale-watching cruise, hopping aboard one of the group's eco-friendly catamarans and heading into the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Ocean Sports has also introduced five new whale-watching cruises. These outings, which combine expert naturalists, an underwater hydrophone, and spacious catamarans, include a "Snorkel and Whale Watch Adventure Cruise" and a "Sail with the Whales Cruise," as well as a "Whales and Cocktails Sunset Cruise."

Oahu Visitors Bureau's Marie Watanabe expects to see Hawaii continue to attract interest from groups as it offers the logistical simplicity of a domestic destination with the excitement and exotic feel of somewhere international.

Or as Watanabe puts it: "With a national trend towards reevaluating and returning to domestic travel, Oahu is one of the most exotic destinations where groups can experience a unique host culture, year-round warm weather, unrivaled natural beauty, world-class resorts, and iconic venues and experiences while staying within the comforts of domestic travel."



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the March 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.