Oahu and Kauai are the yin and yang of the Hawaiian experience. While neither lacks the signature elements Hawaii is known for—stunning landscapes and vibrant cultural diversity—the two islands are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Oahu enlivens the spirit with mid-Pacific urban flare while Kauai soothes the soul with rural and small-town charms.
“There is great synergy between Oahu and Kauai—we’re a wonderful contrast to each other,” said Lisa Nakamasu, director of sales for the Kauai Visitors Bureau (KVB). “After a busy convention on Oahu, Kauai makes the ideal post-trip.”
These days neither island is content to rest on its laurels. Both are continually refining the visitor experience with improved accommodations, dining, outdoor activities and venue options.
No island in Hawaii has transformed itself quite as much as Oahu has in recent times, the result of a massive infusion of infrastructure investment occurring not only in Waikiki but in the outlying resort areas of Ko Olina and Turtle Bay. The recent introduction of such high-end hotel brands as Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton as well as significant renovations and upgrades at existing properties are enabling the island to capture a broader range of meetings, including the once-elusive corporate incentive market, according to Kainoa Daines, director of sales for the Oahu Visitors Bureau.
“We have so much new luxury product on the island that we can now accommodate those incentive groups who in the past may have only considered the neighbor islands,” he said. “With Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton, which also have properties on neighbor islands, we can also appeal more to incentive groups that want a two-island experience with the same hotel brand.”
Located in the Ko Olina Resort on the leeward coast about 17 miles northwest of Honolulu, the Four Seasons Resort Oahu opened last year following a renovation and rebranding of the JW Marriott Ihilani. The 371-room property offers a multilevel spa, five restaurants and nearly 78,000 square feet of meeting and event space. Ko Olina is also home to Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, which opened in 2011 with over 800 rooms and 50,000 square feet of meeting space. The first Atlantis resort in the U.S., a 1,300-room hotel with a waterpark, is expected to break ground at Ko Olina next year.
“Ko Olina is the only master-planned resort on Oahu and it’s really boosting its profile with the group market,” Daines said. “The Four Seasons brand, which is aggressively pursuing meetings, has elevated an already excellent hotel to the top end. Aulani also provides a great option for groups, especially those who are bringing family members along.”
Also on the move is Turtle Bay Resort, a 410-room property amid the famous surfing beaches of the North Shore, which recently announced preliminary plans for a major expansion that will include a 452-room hotel, two golf courses and a spa.
Waikiki, which has steadily evolved as a meetings destination over the past two decades through such developments as the Hawaii Convention Center and Waikiki Beach Walk, continues to raise the bar. Among newcomers is The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach, a 307-unit condo hotel with a spa, dining areas and pool terrace available for events. A second tower with 250 units is expected to open by the end of 2018.
Located close to the convention center, the former Hawaii Prince Hotel, now the Prince Waikiki, completed a $55.4 million renovation this spring. It included the redesign of all 533 guest rooms as well as expanded meeting and event space.
“The hotel has always been a good partner with the convention center, but now it offers meeting guests a warmer atmosphere and more of a resort feel,” Daines said.
Another hotel undergoing transformation is the Pacific Beach Hotel, which will be renamed the Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach when a $115 million renovation is complete this fall. Along with a redesign of its 839 guest rooms and meeting space, the hotel will include two new restaurants operated by celebrity chef Masaharu Morimoto, an extensive pool deck and a 280,000-gallon aquarium in the lobby.
Big changes are also happening in central Waikiki, particularly at the redeveloped International Marketplace, which now offers upscale retailers and chef-driven restaurants such as Michael Mina’s STRIPSTEAK Waikiki and Roy Yamaguchi’s Eating House 1849. According to Daines, the new Marketplace can host events.
“You can do dine-arounds and progressive dinners at restaurants or set up food stations,” he said. “On the ground floor there’s a courtyard with a stage and lawn that works for groups of 100 or less.”