Transformational Gatherings

Among major U.S. destinations, Hawaii is uniquely alluring. Without crossing international borders, association attendees can gather at a gorgeous tropical getaway with top-notch meeting facilities, distinctive team-building activities and a rejuvenating setting that reflects the “Aloha Spirit.”

It’s no wonder the 50th state is always a popular choice with association planners who have an eye for combining business with pleasure.

Oahu: The Next Generation of Meetings

Honolulu, Hawaii’s largest city, garners the lion’s share of the meetings trade, most of it centered around Waikiki Beach and the state’s largest group venue, the Hawaii Convention Center. Within walking distance of shops, restaurants and the beach, the convention center offers 47 meeting rooms, two theaters and a 2.5-acre rooftop garden and event space.

In August, more than 2,000 physicians and health care workers convened at the Hawaii Convention Center for the National Medical Association’s annual assembly, the third time the NMA has met in Hawaii. And in May, the venue is scheduled to host the 29th annual conference of the Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology, expected to draw nearly 3,000 attendees. David Nershi, the society’s executive director, said that the “beautiful and enriching backdrop” that is Honolulu has proved to be an enticement, as has its location, which is appealing for attendees hailing from the Pacific Rim. “We are especially pleased to be welcoming a much larger number of guests from the Pacific Rim region this year,” he said.

The Waikiki area, a highlight for many visitors, continues to develop and improve. Construction has begun on a massive revitalization of one of its landmark attractions, the venerable International Market Place, an open-air retail center that is expected to offer seven restaurants and 75 shops, including a new Saks Fifth Avenue, upon its projected spring 2016 reopening.

Several resorts and hotels with meeting space have been renovated and expanded. These include the Aqua Oasis Hotel (formerly the Waikiki Joy), which recently completed a $2.5 million renovation, and the Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort & Spa, whose $21 million renovation earlier this year added a new beach club and updated guest rooms in its Tower and Diamond wings. The Sheraton Waikiki recently opened the use of its Leahi Club Lounge to groups. The space, located on the hotel’s 30th floor, features expansive city and ocean views for up to 126 people. In addition, the hotel offers new team-building programs that include “Events With Aloha,” a voluntourism initiative in which attendees help with local efforts to preserve oceans and watersheds, care for taro patches or restore bird habitats.

Adjacent to the Sheraton is the Royal Hawaiian, which dates back to 1927 and is known as the “Pink Palace of the Pacific.” The 6,000-square-foot Gardens at Helumoa is the newest of the resort’s 11 meeting spaces, located near the resort’s signature Mai Tai Bar. In front of the hotel, the Royal Hawaiian Center shopping and entertainment complex has event space for up to 600.

In other hotel news, the Kahala Hotel & Resort is celebrating its golden anniversary this year and has opened a new business center and a hospitality suite; the Ohana/Waikiki East refreshed all 441 of its guest rooms earlier this year; and at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, the variety show “CabaRAE” has debuted at the Tapa Tower’s new 400-seat theater. In 2017, Outrigger plans to launch a two-year, $100 million renovation of the oceanfront Outrigger Reef on the Beach that will add 200 guest rooms and 15,000 square feet of new meeting space.

Beyond Waikiki, Honolulu offers plenty of off-site venues for association receptions, dinners and special tours. In downtown Honolulu, the historic ‘Iolani Palace welcomes groups as large as 8,000, and most Fridays, the Royal Hawaiian Band gives free concerts on its grounds. At Pearl Harbor, the battleship USS Missouri can host a variety of events. On nearby Ford Island, the Pacific Aviation Museum also hosts group functions with 100,000 square feet of space. At Diamond Head State Monument, the new Diamond Head Crater Visitor Center offers programs for visiting groups. And at the Bishop Museum, associations can plan events for as many as 6,000 people.

On the northeastern side of Oahu, about 10 miles north of Kaneohe, is the Kualoa Ranch, used for the filming of numerous TV shows and movies. With five miles of coastal and mountain scenery, more than a half-dozen special-event areas and numerous recreational activities that can fill up the day, it can set the scene for gatherings as large as 12,000.

In Laie, the Polynesian Cultural Center provides group bookings for luaus and tours of seven authentically recreated South Pacific Island villages. Starting in January, the first stop for visitors to the Polynesian Culture Center will be the new Hukilau Marketplace, with shops, dining courts with Polynesian specialties and a stage that will feature live entertainment.

On the North Shore, a surfer’s paradise, the 840-acre Turtle Bay Resort in Kahuku has ushered in a new era with the completion of a multimillion-dollar renovation and rebranding campaign that focuses on authentic North Shore experiences. Groups can elect to lend a helpful hand by dedicating a few hours to maintaining local habitats or cleaning up bays and tide pools. Other popular choices include a luau in which the main course is seafood caught by attendees themselves. The new Nalu Kinetic Spa offers its own lineup of programs that include yoga, fun runs and boot camps.

Maui: Perfect Days in Paradise

Nearly as popular with meeting-goers as Oahu, Maui has it all, from world-class beaches to full-service resorts to remote hideaways. And Maui’s hotels are always adding enhancements. On the southwestern coast, in Wailea, the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, is revitalizing its public areas and guest rooms. The Grand Wailea also runs a volunteer program in conjunction with the Maui Humane Society that encourages guests to lend a helping “paw.”

Nearby, the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort opened its Willow Stream Spa following an $8 million renovation and expansion project in January. A few miles south, the Makena Beach & Golf Resort has a new event space: the Makena Ranch, which can host events for up to 500.

On the island’s northwest coast, Ka’anapali is the island’s most concentrated cluster of meeting resorts and home to two renowned golf courses: the Resort South and the Tournament North. Ka’anapali’s resorts include such powerhouses as the Hyatt Regency, which recently completed more than $12 million in updates, and the Sheraton, which arranges team-building scavenger hunts and hula lessons on its 12,000-square-foot oceanfront lawn. Another major Ka’anapali player, the Westin/Maui, recently renovated all 553 guest rooms of its Ocean Tower. The Westin partners with Maui Cultural Lands, which can organize visits to ancient farming sites and preservation efforts in Honokowai Valley. At the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, recent enhancements include a new food outlet and renovations to its Tiki Courtyard hula stage.

In nearby Kapalua, the Montage/Kapalua Bay (formerly the Residences at Kapalua Bay) celebrated its grand opening in June after a $15 million renovation. For high-tech gatherings, the Ritz-Carlton/Kapalua fits the bill with leading-edge technology. Both have access to two championship golf courses. Closer to the beach is the Napili Kai Beach Resort, which offers space for up to 200.

Groups of up to 200 can head into the “upcountry” town of Makawao for zip line adventures and hiking at the Pi’iholo Ranch. And the wellness retreat Lumeria Maui recently opened a new spa that is available to island visitors. Continuing east, via the famous winding Road to Hana (or a quick flight on Mokulele Airlines), the Travaasa/Hana offers groups the ultimate island hideaway.

Hawaii Island: Volcanic Splendors

With its white sandy shores, black lava fields and soaring peaks, Hawaii Island (or, as it’s still referred to, the Big Island) is particularly alluring to groups eager to escape from the more urbanized tourist centers. The centerpiece of Hawaii Island is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Last year, the historic, 33-room Volcano House Hotel reopened after a three-year, $3 million remodel. It is now affiliated with Aqua Hospitality, which promotes Volcano House as an executive retreat with a crater-view restaurant.

The Kohala Coast is home to the majority of the island’s meeting facilities including the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, which will mark its 50th anniversary in July 2015. Originally launched by Laurance S. Rockefeller, the Mauna Kea quickly became the quintessential Hawaiian luxury resort. Today’s guests can still enjoy Rockefeller’s 1,600-piece art collection, and throughout 2015, the resort will celebrate its founding with a series of special promotions.

Last year, the Mauna Kea refurnished all guest rooms in its Beachfront Wing. Its adjacent, sister property, the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, also enhanced its accommodations, lobby, pool area and restaurants. Of special note are two new event possibilities: the “Plantation Beach House Party” at the Mauna Kea, featuring local foods and live music, and the “Coast Grille Garden Party” at the Hapuna, which draws upon the fresh ingredients of its on-site garden.

On the northern end of the Kohala Coast, the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows recently refreshed all its guest rooms and suites and opened a restaurant called Under the Bodhi Tree, while the Fairmont Orchid has modernized all of its guest rooms and 30,000 square feet of indoor meeting space. One of the Orchid’s newest programs for meeting groups is “Taro Team-building,” conducted at a taro farm in the Waipio Valley.

On the southern end of the coast is the Waikoloa Beach resort area, home to the Hilton Waikoloa Village, which just completed a $7.5 million renovation of its conference center ballrooms, meeting rooms and outdoor venues. Close by, the beach-front Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa can provide groups with an “aloha ambassador.” Associations that have recently met at the resort include the Alaska Telephone Association, which returned here for its 2014 meeting.

Kailua-Kona, also on the western side of the island, is another popular destination with visiting groups. The Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, which recently enhanced its guest rooms and indoor meeting space, is happy to customize cultural offerings for groups; for example, an agricultural association was recently treated to a presentation on ancient Hawaiian land divisions and farming practices.

Kauai, Lanai & Molokai: Where Small is Beautiful

Three of Hawaii’s smaller islands provide idyllic getaways for attendees seeking to rejuvenate body and spirit and remove themselves from urban distractions. Kauai, famed for its lush gardens and rugged mountain scenery, is the largest of “the little three,” and though it does have several tourist-oriented towns and full-service resorts, the overall effect is a remote, unspoiled one.

Just north of the airport in Lihue is the newly renovated, 25-acre Aqua Kauai Beach Resort. Its Naupaka Café, relocated and expanded into the Shutters Lounge, is frequently used by groups of up to 500. A few miles south, on Kalapaki Beach, the Kauai Marriott Resort boasts 13 newly enhanced meeting spaces. Planners can also take advantage of the neighboring Kauai Lagoons Golf Club.

On Kauai’s north shore, near the town of Princeville, is the St. Regis Princeville Resort, whose Prince Golf Course boasts a new, 60,000-square-foot clubhouse. Events can also be staged at the 2,500-acre Princeville Ranch, where visitors enjoy hiking, horseback rides and zip line tours. On the bluff overlooking Anini Beach, the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas features four pools, a two-story clubhouse and new eco-friendly efforts. Groups often meet on the resort’s main lawn, where tented luaus or theme parties are staged.

Poipu Beach, on Kauai’s southern tip, is home to the Sheraton Kauai Resort. Gathering spaces include the new, 1,200-square-foot Luana Kai, an indoor space on the beach. Nearby, the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa has revamped its Dondero’s restaurant.

For something special, Tasting Kauai offers “A Taste of Kilohana,” a guided food tour of Kauai’s Kilohana Plantation. And, looking toward the future, the legendary Coco Palms Resort, closed since Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai hard in 1991, is slated to begin a two-year renovation in 2015 that will be managed by Hyatt Hotels. The Coco Palms is expected to reopen in 2017 with more than 350 new rooms and bungalows.

On 38-mile-long Molokai, a popular choice is Hotel Molokai, located on the south-central coast. Guests are housed in renovated, Polynesian-style bungalows and the popular on-site restaurant is expected to reopen by year’s end.

Lanai, once dedicated to pineapple plantations, is now largely owned by entrepreneur Larry Ellison, who is investing in the island’s tourism sector. Lanai’s two luxury resorts, both managed by Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, include the country manor–style Lodge at Koele, which will not be available in 2015, as the beachfront Lanai at Manele Bay continues a multimillion-dollar renovation of its guest rooms following a refurbishment of its lobby, spa, gardens and pool area. Also recently added to the resort were dining options that include One Forty, a steak and seafood restaurant, and Nobu Lanai.

Power Boost

Many associations have found Hawaii the ideal meeting place to rejuvenate attendees and, in doing so, recharge their inner batteries. This boost was recently cited by Frank Spinosa, president of the American Podiatric Medical Association, which brought 2,000 delegates to the Hawaii Convention Center for its annual session in July. Spinosa observed that Hawaii was “an ideal location to inspire the energy we want to bring to our meeting.”