Visitors to Hawaii spent $12 billion for the year to October 2013, and that was in a tough market for the island paradise. Graeme Kemlo reports on what’s in store in 2014. By Graeme Kemlo

Fewer arrivals are predicted through 2014. However, one bright spot is Oceania, with more aircraft seats, a consequent 33 per cent increase in Aussie and Kiwi visitors, and while conference delegates are down, incentive business is up 48 per cent.

It is no surprise that Hawaii’s Governor, Neil Abercrombie, recently chose to refute the “boondoggle” tag awarded by critics of a trade association that chose to hold its annual meeting in Honolulu.

Boondoggle is an Americanism for a wasteful project, often involving taxpayer funds – Hawaii’s rooms were 44 per cent cheaper than the New York accommodation used the year prior, and food costs were also lower in Honolulu. “Hawaii’s beautiful scenery and weather may blind some to the fact that we are home to a thriving, sophisticated and contemporary government and business community,” the Governor said.

It is possible to meet on Hawaii and never get your swimsuit wet. More meeting planners are recognising the cultural worth of exposing delegates to the “Real Hawaii” through hundreds of years of history, arts, culture, education and food.

Most business events on Hawaii are centred on either Oahu or Maui where there’s a thriving ecosystem of experienced planners, DMCs, hotels and off-site experiences that will open delegates’ eyes and minds.

Oahu

A growing trend is away from surf and sand to a range of cultural programs, from lessons with a hula “professor” (it is a recognised tertiary academic program), to the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association’s Hawaiian language training, or a visit to the only royal palace on American soil and the immersive story of how commercial interests overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy, told by a most engaging docent (an academic employed as a guide).

There are more than 30,000 accommodation rooms in Waikiki and a 1.1 million square-foot Hawaii Convention Centre. Hilton Hawaiian Village is probably more populous than many African villages, with its 2860 rooms, 150,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space, and three large conference centres including Waikiki’s largest ballroom all set on 22 acres of Waikiki Beach. But it is the biggest game in town and here you can get a commitment for up to 1700 rooms for your business event.

Down the street a different experience awaits delegates at the cosmopolitan The Modern Honolulu, with 310 designer chic rooms, 43 suites and 20,000 square feet of diverse meeting space that includes a ballroom for 1100.

Evoking another era, Moana Surfrider is an elegant white Beaux-arts structure that has stood on an important piece of Hawaiian beachfront since 1901. Initially a 75-room property, it has expanded to 794 rooms, 46 suites and 19,000 square feet of function space for up to 250, plus outdoor spaces for 400. At a breakfast overlooking the ocean, local kahuna (priest) Joe Recca performs a ritual blessing and explains the significance of the healing waters: “If you were to dive into the sea here at the right spot and open your mouth you could take a mouthful of fresh water”. This was an ancient gathering place because of the fresh artesian springs pouring into the sea – something never mentioned on Hawaii Five-O.

On Oahu’s famous north shore there are large waves, big boards and brave surfers who sometimes come to grief on the Pipeline’s rocky shore, but nearby there’s also an enlightening project at Punalu’u where Kamehameha Schools, which inherited 365,000 acres of land across Hawaii, is working to return crown land to traditional taro farming. Delegates can get involved up to their thighs in kalo (taro) working a taro field (lo’i) and understanding the significance of the taro plant: according to ancient Hawaiian Creation Chants, taro is the plant that grew from the body of the stillborn brother of Haloa – the first Hawaiian man, so it is treated as an ancestor.

Another out of town experience is available on the east coast at Kualoa Ranch where owner John Morgan has hosted Hollywood film crews to make Jurassic Park and TV episodes such as Hawaii Five-O. Kualoa also features an ancient Hawaiian fishpond and celebrates the legends of the land and its people. Like the character George Clooney played in The Descendants, John Morgan feels the weight of responsibility of his stewardship of the 4000 acre property bought from the monarchy in the 1850s.

Ka’anapali Maui

A short 40 minute flight from Oahu is Maui, popular with those who regard Waikiki as too busy. The island is popular on the west coast from Ka’anapali to Kapalua and also the south coast’s Wailea.

One of Hawaii’s first ‘destination resort hotels’, the 800-room Hyatt Regency Maui sits on 40 acres of Ka’anapaali beachfront and has acres of pool, a waterslide, rope bridge, and even a waterfall. Hyatt has a grand ballroom for 1450 (banquet) or 2000 (cocktails) plus outdoor spaces for up to 3000. Numerous smaller indoor meeting spaces cater from 30 to 80 to 800 and there’s a permanent boardroom set for 12. One of Hyatt’s interesting offerings is a rooftop astronomical observatory, while its Japanese restaurant can tailor delegate experiences including lessons in creating some of their iconic Japanese dishes.

Next door at the Westin there are three distinct meeting areas – on the lobby level, mezzanine and an outdoor pavilion. They cater for events from a board meeting for 12 to a ballroom for 1000 (reception), 550 (banquet) or 800 (theatre).

Self-described GastroPreneur, Gigi Gaea, runs Hawaii Tasting Tours – a guided walking dining experience for two to sixteen visiting four to five restaurants in one night. Each restaurant offers their top specials, paired with their signature alcoholic beverages while dining at their best seats. And with a choice of 189 west Maui restaurants, there’s a steady stream of private and business event customers. Gigi says she can work with meeting planners to offer the experience for up to 250.

Wailea Maui

Just opened at Wailea, Hyatt’s new lifestyle resort, Andaz (“personal style” in Hindi), has 297 rooms and suites, 15,000 square feet of meeting space with a ballroom for up to 200.
Some will come for the Morimoto Maui restaurant named after executive chef and former “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto. But there’s also an oceanfront lawn that can fit 1200 for a sunset function, plus a range of residential style studio meeting spaces offer that extra flexibility.

Although built more than 20 years ago, Fairmont Kea Lani has stood the test of time as a quality all-suite property on 22 acres at Wailea. It boasts almost twice the room space, with a separate bedroom, lounge area, kitchenette, large bathroom with shower and separate bath. Most face the ocean, have a spacious balcony with a four-seat dining table and a sunlounge.
With 36,000 square feet of dedicated indoor and outdoor meeting space, Fairmont can host meetings from 12 to 650 in 11 different areas.

Fairmont’s commitment to Hawaiian cultural programs is evidenced by its learning and cultural coach, Jonelle Kamai. She trains hotel staff in the concept of ho’okipa (hospitality), then for delegates she runs the popular Hawaiian canoe experience, historical walking tours, Hawaiian language class, lei making, ukulele lessons, hula lessons, stargazing and Hawaiian myths and legends.

Fairmont boasts Maui’s restaurant of the year, Ko, with plantation style Hawaiian cuisine under the leadership of executive chef Tylun Pang, a self-effacing chef who is happy to feature dishes created by his multicultural kitchen staff: Ahi on the Rock (representing the Japanese culture), Kobe Beef Poke (Hawaiian/local culture) and Chicken & Mushroom Lumpia (Filipino culture).

Best times to book a meeting for value and availability in Hawaii are May and September/October.
Meeting planners can take advantage of a new online guide from the Hawaii Visitors Bureau: www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/hvcb/meetings2013_oahu/. And for Maui: www.mauimeetings.net/facguide.html

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