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Hawaii Halfway - A Look at the Top Hawaii Stories Midway Through 2013

July 3, 2013 By: Joe Pike

hawaiiAs Fourth of July weekend approaches, we officially hit the midway part of the year, so Travel Agent thought it would be fitting to look back at the top Hawaii stories in the last six months.

Here are our top five stories from the Aloha State in no particular order:

Hawaii Looks to Replace 86-Year-Old Memorial With Public Beach

In May, both state and city officials in Hawaii were looking to move forward with $18.4 million plans to replace the 86-year-old Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium with a public beach, while also restoring the façade of the memorial. However, funding for the project remains in the air, according to reports.

According to, Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the plan is to demolish the salt water pool and grandstands and build a new public beach with a parking lot, bathrooms and showers. It would cost $69.4 million to restore the crumbling pool decks, officials said. The facade, which was built as a monument to Hawaii's World War I veterans, would be restored and moved about 50 feet to make way for the beach. The governor and the mayor each made it clear there will not be any commercial activity on the site.

The Natatorium in Waikiki was built in 1927 as a tribute to those who served in World War I, according to Then it closed in 1979. There has been plenty of fighting about what to do with the site since then. In the meantime the facility has been disintegrating into the ocean.

According to media reports, The Friends of the Natatorium group opposes the plan and wants the pool and memorial rebuilt. While the group admits it has limited resources it plans to fight the plan in court.

Executive Director of Big Island Visitors Bureau Retires

After nearly 25 years of promoting Hawaii, the Big Island as a world-class vacation destination, travel industry veteran George Applegate retired as executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau (BIVB) on May 31. Succeeding him is Ross Birch, a long-time marketer on Hawaii Island himself, who brings more than 20 years of experience to the BIVB’s top position.

“For more than a decade I’ve witnessed first-hand George’s love for Hawaii Island and passion for the visitor industry as he lead the BIVB team,” said John Monahan, president and CEO of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB), the BIVB’s parent agency, in a written release. “He has done some remarkable work to grow Hawaii Island as an adventure destination for travelers, while never losing sight of his roots as a local boy growing up in the islands. On behalf of the HVCB ohana, I say mahalo nui loa to George for his tremendous contributions and to his family for their support.”

Applegate began his career as a bellman for the Naniloa Hotel in Hilo more than 40 years ago. During his tenure, he held various management positions in hospitality, sales and marketing. He joined BIVB in 1989 as director of sales and marketing, and became executive director in 2000. Prior to BIVB, he was vice president of Big Island Tours of Hawaii, offering excursions of the island’s most spectacular attractions.

“Together with the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) and HVCB, we’ve worked proactively to help the mayor and County of Hawaii enable our islanders to live the American dream,” Applegate said in a written release. “By promoting tourism to this destination and growing the economy, we’ve been able to create opportunities for our residents and communities.”

In retirement, Applegate plans to remain active within the hospitality industry by starting his own consulting practice to help businesses on Hawaii Island and beyond connect with the visitor market. He also plans to continue his support of BIVB as a member of the organization. Visit

Hawaiian Airlines Launches Direct Service From Honolulu to Sendai, Japan

In late June, Hawaiian Airlines officially launched direct service from Honolulu to Sendai, Japan, which represents the carrier’s fifth destination in Japan and the 10th new destination it has introduced in less than three years.

Sendai is the largest city in the Tohoku region of northern Honshu, which has a population of more than nine million. Sendai is known in Japan as "Mori no Miyako," or Forest City, for its many green spaces in its city center. It is also known for its high quality rice and for its summer Tanabata Festival, which draws thousands of visitors from across Japan. Visit

Aqua Hotels and Resorts Forms Three New Brands, Changes Company Name

Travel Agent chatted with representatives of the former Aqua Hotels and Resorts in March and learned about the company’s new restructuring plans.

One of Hawaii's leading hotel management companies, Aqua Hotels and Resorts has changed its name to Aqua Hospitality and announced the restructuring of its 24-property group into three distinctive brands.

In a little over a decade Aqua Hospitality has developed a highly successful and diverse collection of hotels and resorts that span all six major Hawaiian Islands. Aqua's recently successful strategy of marketing its wide range of accommodations to travelers from all over the world has resulted in dramatically increased business from strong economies like China and Australia. The improving United States and Canadian economies are also pushing Aqua's occupancy and revenue numbers to new company highs. The hotel group is driving these numbers even higher with an aggressive renovation program with more than $55 million dollars in projects completed recently or slated for this year.

The increased demand from travelers has combined with a varied demographic profile across Aqua's diversified hotels to create the opportunity for the three new brands and operating divisions under the Aqua Hospitality umbrella:

Monogram Hotel Collection

This collection represents an elite group of stand-alone and independent hotels and resorts providing a highly personalized luxury experience. Each hotel has a distinct name and identity and is unique in personality, environment and design. All the properties offer a boutique experience and promise to be the highlight of any getaway.

Aqua Hotels and Resorts

This brand offers stylish, mid-priced hotels that present excellent value and lifestyle services rooted in Hawaii's rich cultural traditions. Savvy travelers will appreciate the convenient added services that make an Aqua Hotels and Resorts stay fun, convenient and positively practical.

Lite Hotels

This brand is a group of eclectic, economy hotels that appeal to budget- minded travelers. These guests are seeking the most bang for their buck and appreciate the fundamentals - service, convenience and cleanliness. The creation of the three new operating divisions also positions the company to deploy its highly successful methodologies across a wider portfolio of properties including opportunities on the U. S. mainland. Visit

Hilton Hawaiian Village Completes $25.5 Million, Rolls Out Exclusive Ali`i Tower

In early January, Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort completed a seven-month, $25.5 million refurbishment project of its exclusive Ali’i Tower. The makeover included all 323 guest rooms, including new finishes and furnishings, new bathrooms and the reconfiguration of eight junior suites and four 2-bay suites.

In addition, all guest room corridors were redone, as well as the lobby and reception desk. The final phase of the project, which will include upgrades to the tower’s second floor Ocean View Terrace, is scheduled for completion in May. Two Presidential suites were renovated previously as part of the same project.

The theme for the Ali`i (“chief” in Hawaiian) guest rooms draws on the textures and traditions of the islands’ royal history. A commanding presence is created with layered luxurious fabrics in royal colors of purple and blue paired with rich woods and natural tones. Fresh international accents give the timeless designs of the past a contemporary voice—inspired by Pan Pacific culture with elegant lines and modern simplicity.

The renovation included the addition of a guest library and lounge adjacent to the lobby with multiple seating areas, Wi-Fi access and computer terminals. Precious Hawaiian artifacts, including wooden bowls, woven hats and carved gourds are displayed throughout the lounge. Presiding over guests checking into the tower are chandeliers that are echoes of natural forms created with natural materials by local artists. A mosaic behind the front desk follows a Hawaiian kapa (fabric made from tree bark) pattern. Visit

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About the Author

Joe Pike
Joe Pike is Travel Agent's senior editor covering the Caribbean, Bahamas & Bermuda; Hawaii; Central & South America. Previously, Pike was a newspaper reporter for The Asbury Park...

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By Joe Pike | July 3, 2013
As we officially hit the midway part of the year, Travel Agent thought it would be fitting to look back at the top Hawaii stories in the last six months.
Filed under : Trends-Research, USA-Hawaii