Hawaiian Hotels Turn to Locals for Business


Eager to fill hotel rooms, Hawaii properties are catering to local residents, reported Hawaii's Pacific Business News recently.

For kamaaina, the deals mean rooms for as little as one-third the usual rate.

For hotels, “staycations” are offsetting losses from visitor arrival counts that were down 12.6 percent through February.

Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore has enjoyed an occupancy rate of around 80 percent, one of the best in the state.

“It’s dumb luck more than anything else,” said Bob Boyle, Turtle Bay’s vice president and general manager. “We launched our Escape Club two years ago, frankly, to overcome a false impression that we weren’t local-friendly. But it turned out to be the perfect remedy for today’s illnesses.”

The Escape Club
, which offers benefits like a round of golf or a glider ride, has a $219 annual membership fee.

Today there are 3,000 members, and the steady flow of customers paying $149 instead of $429 this month has meant the difference between staying fully staffed and laying off workers.

“I was talking to a customer the other day who said he usually picks up the tab for his family every year on grandma’s birthday,” said Boyle. “I’m figuring he’s from San Francisco or San Diego, but he’s from Mililani. And that’s when the light really turned on for me.”

Trevor Bush, who works at a Waikiki hotel, returned with his family from a respite at Turtle Bay a week ago.

“For us it’s not so much the economy,” said Bush. “We just like getting out of town. It’s cooler, the water’s clean. And it’s good to support the local economy.”

These are grim times for Hawaii hotels.

The February occupancy rate of 74.7 percent was the lowest February since 1991 at the start of the Gulf War.

Room rates were down 12.4 percent to average $187 a night, the steepest drop in February rates since 1987.

The corresponding 21.6 percent drop (to about $140) in revenue per available room — revpar — was the worst since two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The numbers are all the more alarming because February is historically the best month for the visitor industry.

Hotels have stepped up their efforts to fill their beds with local heads, figuring that less revpar is better than zero revpar.

“What’s happening out there is there are a lot of competitive rates, so we try to remain competitive, too,” said Liana Mulleitner, director of corporate communications for Prince Resorts Hawaii.

Prince Resorts rolled out a Kamaaina Golden Anniversary Promotion April 1 that celebrates Hawaii statehood with a $50 room rate for a third booked night.

Travel sections in Honolulu newspapers now have as many advertisements for local hotels as they have for Las Vegas.

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