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 Up Front With Martin B. Deutsch

martin HOT FOR HAWAII

BY MARTIN B. DEUTSCH

August 1, 1986 -- It’s really no surprise that the Pacific community in general and Hawaii in particular have been among the beneficiaries of the summer’s mass decision by Americans not to cross the North Atlantic. Hawaii has been doing quite well, mahalo, even before terrorism began to alter the face of the tourism map. Hawaiians have always had many-splendored islands to lure visitors, and tourism has long since passed pineapples and the military as the leading industry.

Ideal weather, a cluster of distinctive islands, an imposing array of hotels, and strong support advertising by the airlines all come together to attract millions of visitors each year. (Vacationers aren’t alone. Executives descend on the islands holding business meetings, from boards of directors to large conventions, although proposals for a Honolulu convention center have so far failed.)

But enthusiasm about Hawaii is not universal. There are those who are dubious about the fiftieth state as a holiday haven. The diehard pessimists have either never been there or only had a superficial brush with Waikiki, the beachfront compound in Honolulu. The complaints range from "hokey" to comparisons of Waikiki to a cross between Coney Island and Miami Beach.

Maybe, to some extent.

But I can’t think of a better place to visit, for pleasure or business, at any time of the year. And the hotels have a good deal of diversity and character. We won’t list the wide roster of worthwhile properties here, but you won’t be disappointed at such places as the Halekulani, Hawaiian Regent, Hyatt Regency, Ilikai or, some 15 minutes out, at the Kahala Hilton.

And then there’s the grand dame of them all, the Royal Hawaiian whose pink coral façade has been a landmark since 1927, when the rich and ritzy arrived by sea with bulky steamer trunks and sometimes their servants and Rolls-Royces. (The Royal was not the first hotel to open on Waikiki; she followed the Moana and Seaside hotels, as well as one that would become the original Halekulani.) The Royal was built by Castle & Cooke, a powerful corporation, to house passengers who would be brought in by the ships of its Matson Navigation subsidiary. In 1959 the hotel was sold to Sheraton (now part of ITT), which added the Royal Tower wing ten years later, for a total of 576 rooms. The Royal was sold again in 1975, although it remains under the Sheraton management and is part of a cluster of five Waikiki properties managed by the ITT subsidiary.

The Royal was a success from the start—how could it fail? The tropical surf-and-sand setting, the outlandish Spanish-Moorish style tinged with Mission overtones, the romance, the weather. The big industrial tycoons came, and so did Hollywood, as well as anyone with the inclination and the wherewithal. The hotel’s publicity files also refer to "kings and presidents."

As you’ve probably deduced by now, I stayed at the Royal last spring, affirming the quality on which her reputation rests has survived, despite the fact that she’ll observe a sixtieth anniversary next February 1. Not that a hotel—like its guests—ages well without care and investment. The man who now runs the "Pink Palace," Joe Herbert, told me that $4 million was spent last year, much of it to renovate the beachfront Surf Room in which we were having breakfast, as well as to spruce up the 166 rooms in the Tower Section. The refurbishing process is ongoing, said Herbert, pointing out that every room has now been redone since 1980; and that this year the lobby and elevators will be upgraded.

At the Royal for the last 11 years, Herbert said that a "fair amount" of business traffic passes through this hotel, although he describes the typical guest as a vacationer from the mainland who stays two to four weeks, and some as long as several months. Sixty percent of the visitors are "repeaters," with many dropping in annually for the last 30 or 35 years, staying in the same rooms or suites and requesting the same maids.

"The businessman who stays here often comes back for a vacation," Herbert says. "We upgrade them under our Sheraton Executive Traveler (SET) program, and we offer guaranteed rates to corporate customers…this guarantee is a great tool for travel budgeting, and the trip itself is a good management tool." He also described Hawaii as a "natural stop, a gateway for business travel and to and from the Pacific." He said he’s been seeing some spinoff from Europe and the Mediterranean, but that the Royal generally runs an occupancy in the low 90s year-round.

The Royal refuses many, if not all, of the misconceptions about Waikiki. Sure, this resort complex has its rough spots, and it can be crowded and commercial. But spend a vacation or business trip at a place like the Royal, and make your own judgment.

We also took this opportunity to spend a day on the Big Island of Hawaii at the Westin Mauna Kea, long a mainstay on the Kohala coast, which is now in the throes of some serious resort development. If you go in for golf or tennis, Mauna Kea may well be a household word in your circles. The course by Robert Trent Jones Sr., is considered one of the finest in the country; the 13-court Tennis Park is spectacular. So are the Pacific art and artifacts sprinkled throughout the resort and the nearby condominium villas.

Adi Kohler, the general manager, talked to us about the renovation and modernization; the "new" feel is palpable Bill Mielcke, vice president of Mauna Kea properties, took us helicopter flightseeing along the Kohala coast, showing us the new hotel and resort developments. (Spectacular.)

No. Hawaii doesn’t need the bad times elsewhere to prosper. It can stand on its own anytime.

This column originally appeared in Frequent Flyer magazine.

Copyright © 1991-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.