|Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa skillfully blends the Disney brand with authentic Hawaiian culture.|
A major, and not uncontroversial, development to come from the islands was the official recognition of civil unions as of January 1, which has opened up a new niche market in the state. On Maui, the Grand Wailea is hosting civil unions and commitment ceremonies in the Wailea Seaside Chapel and Chapel Gardens, as well as beachside services. Ceremonies can include such Hawaiian features as leis, guitarists, and local cuisine served at the reception. Couples can also get perks such as matching his-and-his or hers-and-hers embroidered bathrobes.
Aqua Hotels and Resorts is also rolling out packages for commitment ceremonies and civil unions across the islands. At the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts in Hawaii, all ceremonies and packages apply to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation. The License to Wed specialist at the Four Seasons Resort Lanai is authorized by the state of Hawaii to approve all marriage and civil union licenses.
One of the biggest announcements to come from Hawaii in 2011 was the news that Hawaiian Airlines would begin flying nonstop between New York and Honolulu, bringing the East Coast much closer to the Aloha State. Hawaiian’s new flights from New York will add more than 107,000 new air seats per year to Hawaii’s tourism industry.
The airline is also creating a Maui hub to increase interisland service and nonstop flights from Western cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, Las Vegas, Oakland and San Jose.
Alaska Airlines, meanwhile, expanded its service with a daily nonstop flight between San Diego and Honolulu. The service complements the airline’s existing daily nonstop flight between San Diego and Kahului, Maui, which began in 2010.
Several airlines are working together to make travel to the “neighbor islands” easier. Traditionally, visitors had to land in Honolulu and then transfer to connecting flights, but direct flights from cities throughout the West Coast of the mainland are making it easier to get to Hawaii Island and Maui as well as the smaller islands of Lanai, Kauai and Molokai. United Airlines now flies directly between Hilo on Hawaii Island and Los Angeles, in addition to weekly nonstop service to Hilo from its San Francisco hub. At press time, United announced it would begin nonstop service between Washington, D.C. and Honolulu in June.
Elizabeth Moriarty, vice president of product development, MLT Vacations, said that her company’s passenger traffic in 2011 increased 45 percent due to the addition of United Vacations and growth on Delta Vacations.
The biggest opening of the year was Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa on Oahu. (See our on-location coverage here.) The property balances the Disney brand with authentic Hawaiian culture beautifully, and is bringing a new kind of traveler to the island. Bonus: Among the activities available at Aulani are excursions to other islands, making it easy to create a comprehensive trip.
The other big news from Hawaii’s hotel scene was the midnight takeover of the erstwhile Waikiki Edition, which became The Modern Honolulu. Originally a collaboration between Marriott and hotelier Ian Schrager, the hotel was taken over by Aqua in a late-night coup, and the case remains in court.
MLT Vacations will be adding several new tours to Hawaii over the next couple of weeks. In Kauai, the operator is providing several zipline tours, including a treetop excursion, a wikiwiki (Hawaiian for “very fast”) zipline tour and an eco-adventure. In Maui, visitors can tour Haleakala and Hana by helicopter or go for a full-day tour of the island.
Moriarty says that Honolulu, Oahu and Maui still draw the majority of MLT’s passengers. The company has, however, seen a much faster growth in travel to some outer islands. In terms of destination expansion within Hawaii, United Airlines started new service to Hilo last summer. It is currently the only carrier to provide nonstop flying to Hilo from the mainland. In addition, we are still seeing growth in the number of customers going to Lihue, Kona, Hilo and Lanai, instead of going to some of the more popular destinations such as Honolulu and Maui.
Kevin Wilmore, president of Blue Sky Tours, says that he has not seen a huge shift in trends in travel to Hawaii in recent months. “Maui and Oahu trade months in being the most popular island, and Hawaii Island and Kauai battle for third and fourth place.”
Blue Sky’s percentage of interisland travel has also remained fairly stable over the last several years. “A good number of clients will do multi-island trips,” Wilmore says. “If people go for eight or 10 days, they will usually spend a few days on two islands.”