Hawaii’s Tourism scene seems to be on an upswing: Major hotels have opened or undergone renovation over the last year, and more airlines are flying to more islands. This summer, United Airlines brought back direct flights from the mainland to Hilo on the Big Island—a clear sign of the rise in demand and of Hawaii’s re-emergence.
“About mid-May, we started to see airfares that enabled people to take advantage of flights to Hawaii,” says Michael Jokovich, general manager for Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa. “When we lost carriers, we didn’t know what would happen. But now others have picked up.”
Brian Soma, director of sales and marketing at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa, agrees. “Improved and increased airlift...makes for more competitive airfares, and we know they only increase airlift if they anticipate demand.”
Diann Hartman of the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa notes that direct flights to a variety of islands will also help bring in more visitors. “That is a big factor for a lot of people—not flying through Oahu,” she says.
However, Jon Conching, vice president of sales and marketing, Hawaii Region, for Hilton Worldwide, doesn’t believe that the Hilo flights will have a major impact beyond the Big Island. “Hopefully, the flights will do well, and hotel owners will reinvest in their properties. But overall, it won’t make an impact.” Still, he feels any new flights are a good thing, and he hopes United will see an increase in bookings.
“Our summer looks very good,” says Hartman. The Grand Hyatt Kauai just completed a significant renovation, updating the design and decor of the lobby and rooms. “We had 250 rooms out of order last year and this year, we’re back to 602 rooms and looking to have them filled in July and August.”
Jokovich says room demand at Hyatt Regency Maui is increasing and he anticipates high occupancy in July and August. “We’ll be in the high 80s, possibly 90 percentile.” While the hotel typically sees an uptick in family visits over the summer, Jokovich notes that the season is also good for honeymoon travel. “We’re going after the entire market,” he says. “Things are getting back to what they were, but they are not at the same level.”
Soma agrees. “About three years ago, we saw the start of the decline, and since then it has stabilized,” he says. “This year, we’ve seen a nice growth. It’s not where it was four or five years ago, but it’s an improvement.”
Rob Solomon, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Outrigger Enterprises Group, says that the numbers for summer “look positive,” and while occupancies haven’t returned to 2008 levels, more families are traveling. “Yes, higher airfares have had an impact, but we’ve seen a slight softening in some airfares recently and travelers are taking advantage,” he says, adding that the brand has some availability at some of their condominium properties on the Neighbor Islands, as well as some of its near-the-beach properties in Waikiki. “Another good tip agents can [use is] to take advantage of better availability and airfares in the last couple of weeks in August,” he adds.
Hotels have had low occupancy also for other reasons. For example, the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa is under construction, and will not be complete until October. “Short-term, the summer is softer than we’d hoped, but inbound travel from the mainland is strong for the islands,” says Brad Mettler, the property’s director of marketing.
According to Angela Vento, Starwood’s regional director of sales and marketing for Hawaii and French Polynesia, not so long ago, Hawaii’s hotels would be booked up for the summer by the middle of June. As of late June, she says Starwood still had availability for August and Labor Day. Still, it’s not all grim, she adds: The brand’s Waikiki hotels are full and properties in Maui are also doing well. Overall, the brand is seeing growth over last year, and some properties are up 5 percent.
“We’re seeing great support from the West Coast.”
Cutting Prices or Adding Value?
Hotels have two ways to attract hesitant visitors: cut prices or add value. “For our product, it’s more value-add,” says Soma. “We’re not an economy class, so people categorize us as deluxe.” Still, he adds: “When people look here, they [seek] value, which can be price or packaging. Two years ago, last year, it was price, but we’ve seen a shift toward packaging.” The trick, he says, is to find components for the package that travelers want to see—free Internet access, for example, or an upgrade to an oceanview room.
Solomon agrees that added perks can be a major attraction. Outrigger and Ohana hotels do not have resort fees, and in Waikiki, for example, free Internet access and phone calls are available. “The Outrigger-managed Embassy Suites-Waikiki Beach Walk on Oahu and Keauhou Beach Resort on the Big Island are popular with families because of the free breakfast offered to all guests.” Families staying at the brand’s Maui condominiums, meanwhile, can get free groceries—another popular option, Solomon says.
Starwood’s Waikiki hotels, on the other hand, recently added resort fees. “They feel more like resorts than city hotels,” Vento says. The fee includes an hour of long-distance phone call.
Conching, who notes that Hilton is having a “great summer overall,” has also found value-adds to be popular, especially with families. “Free nights always get people’s attention and everyone loves breakfast.” Free-meals-for-kids is likewise a popular summer perk.
|United Airlines has resumed its direct flights to The Big Island; pictured here are Hilo’s Liliuokalani Gardens.|