Hawaii is making a greater play at the meetings and incentives market, showcasing the destination’s multitude of events and groups spaces to specialists in the field from around the world the past week.
On the back of a successful inaugural event last year, the 2018 Experience Aloha Business Exchange (EABE) has aimed to put the Hawaiian islands firmly back in the front-of-mind for professional conference organisers with renewed vigour.
Hosted by Hawaii Tourism Authority and the organisation’s regional offices abroad (including Hawaii Tourism Oceania), and Hawaiian Airlines, EABE is capitalising on multi-million-dollar investments being made by hotel and resort owners to elevate the standards of existing properties, particularly in Honolulu.
Among the Honolulu-based hotels that have recently completed overhauls are the ‘Alohilani Resort whose owners have injected, so far, US$120 million to reimagine the former 3-star Pacific Beach Hotel into a 840-room 4.5-star resort, just footsteps away from the iconic Waikiki Beach.
The oceanfront Sheraton Waikiki is also set to begin a massive undertaking to revitalise its room inventory, with the HTO delegation given a preview of the redesigned room.
Prince Waikiki, positioned across the road from the Ala Moana Shopping Center, has also recently completed an extensive upgrade.
Four months into the role as HTO’s Country Manager for Australia, Giselle Radulovic said the destination offers so much more to the MICE market than people may expect at first glance.
Radulovic said that while competing incentive markets closer to Australia may be lower in cost, “it’s the value you will get when you come here” and the service level, which she believes is “a step above a lot of other destinations”.
“The exchange rate can be a challenge but the additional value that they will get through the experiential element and the standard of service is what needs to be communicated more effectively to PCOs and meeting planners in general,” she said.
Radulovic said the experiences were also a standout for Hawaii. “There are so many great things to do past the beach. There are a lot of beach destinations around the world, but when you come to Hawaii it is much more than that. You have a strong emphasis on Hawaiian culture, the welcoming nature of the locals and immersive experiences which can be incorporated into a program such as surfing lessons, team building activities at Kualoa Ranch and food tours through emerging local hotspots.”
Oahu Visitors Bureau Director of Sales, Kainoa Daines, said the island has witnessed a change in the luxury segment.
“Oahu hasn’t been the incentive island for some time. If you had an incentive group coming to Hawaii you would go to Maui and maybe swing through Oahu to go to Pearl Harbour, the Polynesian Cultural Center and include an activity.
“But we have seen over the last year-and-a-half to two-years, the likes of Four Seasons arrive at Ko Olina, The Ritz-Carlton in Waikiki and a lot of our 2- and 3-star properties have become 4- and 4.5-star hotels to remain competitive,” Daines said.
“With the other brands coming in the incentive market is now looking towards this island with new eyes for the first time. Consumers, in general, are very brand conscious and may not be aware of brands such as The Kahala, Halekulani, maybe even The Royal Hawaiian. Some of the existing luxury hotels here on Oahu. But they know Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton, so it’s a conversation starter now,” he explained.
“Having this diversity at the luxury end has been great for us, but we still have plenty of options in the mid-scale market for those enterprises that can’t afford high-end.”
Daines said the growth of off-site venues is also benefitting Oahu, including private homes on older estates that the families have now moved away from. Located primarily out of the city and on the north shore, properties such as Sunset Ranch, Sullivan Estate and Dillingham Ranch are being used to host intimate gatherings with great success.
Daines said the accessibility of Oahu to/from neighbouring islands and the mainland through Hawaiian Airlines was important for event organisers that seek “lots of options” for their delegates: “That’s what people want.”
The Australian and New Zealand delegates were given the opportunity to scope out event spaces including the Pacific Aviation Museum and USS Missouri, both at Pearl Harbor, and the Kualoa Ranch Private Nature Reserve, a location where over 100 Hollywood blockbusters were filmed, such as Jurrasic Park, which can handle conferences of up to 6,000 guests.
Among the contingent from Australia was Danielle Fitzsimmons, Event Manager at Cornerstone Events and Jan Musgrave, Director of Business Development from Inspired Luxury. Both were amazed and the breadth of locations and options available to groups and incentives.
“There are definitely a lot more opportunities for clients and for partner programs than I thought. I didn’t realise Hawaii was so strong for partner programs and so easy to manage lots of different activities,” Fitzsimmons said.
Partner programs run in conjunction with an event and are designed to enable the spouse and children of a delegate to participate. Fitzsimmons said there is a growing trend for conference organisers to develop packages for that market as well.
“Hawaii is a great opportunity for that. There’s so much here, there’s lots of activities for the kids to do and to keep them entertained, whereas some places you go you are filling up the day with massages and high-teas and other less exciting activities.
“There is a lot you can also incorporate if your delegates take a day off in the middle of their program for optional touring, something that can be all encompassing for all participants,” Fitzsimmons said.
Musgrave, who is also a member of TravelManagers Australia, said Hawaii “offers the dream destination and delivers on a diverse mix of exceptional hotel options and seamless service, with Hawaiian Airlines connecting the islands”.
“Hawaii’s off-site experiences capture the landscape and essence of Hawaii. It’s a brilliant location that ticks all the boxes for groups of all sizes”.