WAIKIKI—I've been drawn to Waikiki a lot lately because of a new sort of bustle in the epicenter of Hawaii's tourism industry. Venture along Kalakaua Avenue these days and you'll be greeted by the sights and sounds of a popular destination busily reinventing itself to meet the needs and dreams of the modern traveler.
True, the past decade has seen a steady stream of improvements in various spots of Waikiki, including the city's work at Kuhio Beach and multiple hotel and retail improvements and additions.
But there's a concerted effort now—call it the Big Push of 2006, if you will—that has been removing some of the most densely developed areas of Oahu's miracle mile, opening up view planes to Waikiki Beach and the ocean and creating not only freshly renovated and newly constructed lodging, but a range of shopping and dining options that will give visitors more reasons to come to Waikiki and linger there, as well as more impetus for Oahu folks to head to Waikiki for a pau hana (after work) libation, meal or shopping.
As you know anecdotally, and as research by the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau continues to bear out, one of the attractions of a Hawaiian vacation is mingling with residents. Thus, when I'm donning a hard hat for a behind-the-scenes peek at one project or another, I'm not just toting my digital camera and note pad to bring you the latest news, I'm also getting the 411 on places I'll be looking forward to checking out with family and friends. And make no mistake, there is a definite buzz in the community about what's coming.
Conservative estimates peg recent and current investments by the private sector in Waikiki at more than $750 million, with additional projects on the drawing boards. Public money has also flowed into Waikiki in recent years.
Large-scale projects currently underway include significant renovations and upgrades at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, to the tune of more than $84 million. The center has continued to operate during the course of the project, which began in July 2005. Rolling openings by new merchants already are in progress, with completion scheduled for the middle of 2007.
Also changing the skyline has been the adjoining Waikiki Beach Walk project, a mixed-use development spanning nearly eight acres. Work there began in April 2005, and much of the first phase of the two-part project will open in December. Travelers who pay a repeat visit to the stretch of Lewers Street between Kalakaua and Kalia will find a thoroughfare that's much more open than in days past, with a 92,000-square-foot retail-and-entertainment complex nestled among multiple new or newly renovated hotels.
BOOKING THE BEST IN WAIKIKI
Insider tips on wholesalers, hotels, restaurants and tourist resources
Wholesalers: A majority of Hawaii-bound vacationers purchase at least one element of their trips through the wholesaler channel. Most of the inventory your clients are interested in is accessible to you through wholesalers. In recent years, these operators have added to the modularity of their product. Retailers who think of the components as building blocks will find it relatively easy to mix and match everything from longhaul and interisland airfare to lodging, rental car and optional activities. It should be noted that you can't book air-only packages, but you generally receive commission on the air component of most packages.
Additionally, wholesalers have beefed up their online booking tools while retaining their call centers, so agents can work independently or tap into the expertise of the wholesaler's staff. Base commission generally starts at 10 percent and can vary depending on the components selected. There generally are preferred rates for agents and agencies driven by performance.
Among the wholesalers with a breadth of Hawaii product are Pleasant Holidays, 800-448-3333, www.pleasantagent.com; Creative Leisure International, 800-413-1000, www.creativeleisure.com; and Classic Vacations, 800-221-3949, www.classicforagents.com. Pleasant's liaison for home-based agents is Nikki Shanley at 800-442-3234 or [email protected] The sales team contact at Creative Leisure is Sandy O'Connor at 800-548-3566, ext. 238 or [email protected]
Lodging: Befitting its status as Hawaii's largest visitor destination, Waikiki has a number of large beachfront hotels. Clients looking to stretch their lodging dollars will also have plenty of off-beach choices, and you'll be able to point out to them that Waikiki Beach will still be just a few blocks' walk from their porte cochere. Another option (that's especially suited to families and travelers who plan to spend a longer time in Waikiki) is the growing number of condominium and condo-style properties. These generally provide at least a bit more square footage than a standard hotel room, and have a living room area as well as a kitchenette or full kitchen; some also provide in-unit washers and dryers. They generally provide daily maid service, so the line between condo and hotel blurs.
More than 60 percent of the 1,695 rooms at the Sheraton Waikiki (888-488-3535, www.sheratonwaikiki.com) have some sort of ocean view, and 95 percent have a private lanai. Large suites above the fourth floor in the -35 and -36 series have panoramic views of the Pacific and Diamond Head, and sharp-eyed watchers may see honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles) swimming in the ocean. Suites in the-02 series, also large suites, have 180-degree views of the ocean, and are a good choice for clients who enjoy watching the sun set. Medium suites provide views of Diamond Head and the Pacific similar to what's seen on postcards. The agent contact for special arrangements is Karin Jones, senior sales manager, [email protected]
The Outrigger Waikiki Shore (800-688-7444, www.outrigger.com), part of Outrigger's Condo Collection, occupies a beachfront location overlooking the Pacific and the open space of Fort DeRussy. An insider tip for families or groups of friends traveling together is to book a one-bedroom oceanview unit; these units measure 860 square feet. Contact Walter Tolentino, assistant general manager, at [email protected] for VIP arrangements.
Halekulani (800-367-2343, www.halekulani.com) is equally suited for couples and families; the hotel will confirm connecting rooms at time of booking based on availability for families traveling with children. Also, if clients are celebrating special occasions, mention this when booking and a personalized amenity will be arranged. When booking based on view, ask for a room on the eighth floor or higher, to be above the coconut palms. When making special arrangements, agents can contact Ruselle Metry at 808-294-2063 or [email protected] or Nelson Arlos, at 808-931-5023 or [email protected]
Restaurants: Great dining is one of the pleasures of time on Oahu, and the culinary scene is poised to take another big step in the next few months with opening of a number of restaurants at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center and Waikiki Beach Walk. There already are a number of excellent choices right in Waikiki, including Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar and d.k. Steakhouse (www.sanseihawaii.com ) at the Waikiki Beach Marriott. This two-in-one spot features new-wave sushi and premium dry-aged steaks. As its name indicates, Ciao Mein, at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki (www.waikiki.hyatt.com), serves Chinese and Italian cuisine. Orchids and La Mer, both at the Halekulani ( www.halekulani.com), serve excellent seafood and other dishes. The Five-Diamond La Mer is known for its neoclassic French cuisine prepared with island ingredients; if clients want to dine there, note that the two specialty corner seats are the first to be sold each night.
Encourage clients to chart a course beyond Waikiki to one of the many nearby restaurants, such as one of the following, all a short drive or cab ride from Waikiki. Chef Mavro (www.chefmavro.com), Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas at Restaurant Row (www.hiroshihawaii. com), Alan Wong's (www.alanwongs. com) and Sam Choy's Diamond Head Restaurant and Breakfast, Lunch, Crab & Big Aloha Brewery (www.samchoy.com).
And on a day when clients want a quick meal and a chance to mingle with residents, point them to such local hangouts as Zippy's (www.zippys.com), which has multiple locations.
Educational Resources: The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, the Big Island Visitors Bureau, the Kauai Visitors Bureau, the Maui Visitors Bureau and the Oahu Visitors Bureau all provide destination-specialist training programs for agents. Visit HVCB's site for travel agents—www.agents.gohawaii.com—for industry information and links to the various travel-trade sites maintained by the island chapters. Look for the state map that appears on each page. The Travel Institute (www.thetravelinstitute.com) has two Hawaii designations—destination specialist and certified destination specialist. Agents applying for the latter designation need to have passed the institute's Hawaii destination-specialist test and visited Hawaii.
Additional Resources: Waikiki Improvement Association (www.waikikiimprovement.com); Oahu Visitors Bureau (www.visit-oahu.com); Waikiki Aquarium (www.waquarium.org); Honolulu Zoo (www.honoluluzoo.org). Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center (www.shopwaikiki.com); Ala Moana Center (www.alamoana.com); Waikiki Beach Walk (www.waikikibeachwalk.com). —CF