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Burnishing an Icon

March 19, 2007 By: Camie Foster Travel Agent

The Kahala uses guest input to plan upgrades

It's serious business, upgrading an icon. Just ask John
Blanco, managing director of the Kahala Hotel & Resort.

We spent an afternoon chatting with Blanco about what's
underway at the hotel, and it was clear immediately that guest and travel agent
input has played a critical role throughout the planning process. Blanco and
colleague Glynis Esmail, vice president of marketing and sales for Landmark
Hotels, note that the management team actively sought comments from guests and
retailers about what aspects of the hotel and its services they liked—and
equally important, what changes they thought were needed.

 View of the Kahala Hotel & Resort, which is in the midst of upgrades

Blanco notes that the hotel's clientele can span multiple
generations within a family, since it opened on Kahala Beach
in 1964; and it was important to understand the hotel's long-term allure for
these customers, and to ensure that they and the agent community understand
their input is appreciated.

He adds that the management team wants its travel partners
to know that the door is open. "We value your business; we love your
customers," he says.

Esmail adds that that it was important to assure the travel
community that proper care would be taken of the hotel's heritage and
atmosphere. This is why retailers are encouraged to visit and to experience the
new room product for themselves. Agent liaison is Sharon Klaschka, director of
sales, at 808-739-8862. (The hotel was purchased by Kahala Hotel Investors, an
affiliate of Honolulu-based Trinity Investments; it is managed by Landmark
Hotels. Both have longtime ties to Hawaii,
including with the Kea Lani Resort on Maui before its acquisition by Fairmont.)

As we toured a model suite, Blanco mentioned that many
guests wanted assurance that the hotel's resident dolphins would continue to
call the Kahala home—as indeed they will. (In fact, they swam toward us and one
jumped, almost on cue.) Although guests are likely to appreciate the
technological upgrades, such as wireless Internet access and flat-screen TVs,
Blanco says the most-requested items were more storage space and new
sliding-glass doors. He adds that the message of keeping the dolphins and
taking care of the staff came through clearly and repeatedly.

Concept for the living room portion of a new suite

Every room is receiving thorough upgrades in a process that
closes three floors at a time—rooms on the middle floor are worked on,
sandwiched between a floor above and below—to minimize guest impact.

The new color palette is brighter, and the Frette towels and
linens are custom-made for the property. Bath
amenities also are custom-made by Floris of London.

The Small Details

Many of the touches are subtle but of the sort repeat guests
will notice, such as the replacement of bedside tables with stylish, compact
dressers. In response to guest comments, the sliding-glass doors have been
replaced with soundproofed sliders, and the shutters that previously slid in
front of the glass doors for privacy have been replaced with drapes.

All rooms are receiving new carpet and 40-inch flat-screen
TVs. Other amenities include compact fridges that are true refrigerators,
capable of keeping milk and other perishables fresh, as well as coffee-making
setups. Your clients may never realize it, but installing these refrigerators
required the installation of new electrical circuitry. Suites are being fitted
with dark Ipe-wood flooring and will have microwaves.

Work has been proceeding from the bottom of the tower to the
top, and Blanco says half the rooms will be completed by the end of June, when
work will pause. It will resume in September in the Dolphin Lagoon wing, and is
scheduled to conclude in December. By that point, the investment in the project
will top $20 million.

Blanco's quest for a distinctive product for the hotel's
grand afternoon tea is emblematic of the hotel's attention to detail. The
months-long effort was rewarded with an agreement with France's Mariage Frères, in existence since the
1700s, to supply tea; the Kahala is the only hotel in the U.S. to have
such an arrangement.

Although establishing the agreement took months, Blanco says
the time was well spent, adding that his first step is to look for local items,
such as the spa's products, developed and made on Kauai
by Malie.

The hotel has now brought all of its operations with guest
contact, including the spa, back in-house. The new spa director is Paul

Blanco sees this as a time for returning the Kahala to its
previous golden era, drawing on the strength of its staff, its location and its

The Kahala is hoping to draw on its ties with travelers
who've honeymooned at the hotel over the years with an anniversary club that it
hopes to unveil in April and launch in June, according to Esmail.

Enhancements to the hotel's food-and-beverage operations
include expansion of choices at afternoon tea, in addition to the
aforementioned tea itself. Hoku's has seen such refinements as Christofle
silverware and service tableside. Restaurant-goers are served prime grade of
beef, not choice. Even something as simple as orange juice has not gone
unnoticed. "You have to have fresh-squeezed orange juice," Blanco says,
noting the hotel now receives its juice from an Oahu
purveyor. "It's all part of the value proposition," he explains.

The food poolside also has been taken up a notch, as well,
while remaining relaxed. One of the new items is sushi-grade ahi that's seared
and served on a bun for casual eating.

The next phase of the hotel's upgrades next year will
address the public areas: expanding the spa and Plumeria Café. Ideas also are
being explored for Hoku's.

Blanco says the demand for the hotel's spa suites product
far outstrips supply, and the hotel is looking at building a new, larger spa
with 10 to 12 treatment rooms, and incorporating a fitness center. The retail
space and the location of the front desk are also under review. "We want
to get people closer to the reason they came here," he says, even during
the check-in process.

Other concepts under discussion for the 2009 time period
include the possible reshaping of the dolphin lagoon and addressing the pool.

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