Kohala Coast's marketing efforts bear fruit By Tony Bartlett / October 21, 1998 Share 1 -- KOHALA-- Hotels on the Big Island's Kohala Coast started marketing the destination for meetings and incentives several years ago. By spreading guests and functions among the properties, along more than 20 miles of coast north of Kona Airport, the area can seek larger pieces of business. The move is paying off. The meetings and incentives business is up 25% this year, according to the Kona Kohala Resort Association (KKRA), which has eight member hotels.Last January, Kohala hosted its largest group ever, Pepsi's 100th anniversary celebration, with 4,000 participants staying at all hotels. Entertainment included the Rolling Stones, the "Lord of the Dance" troupe and Ray Charles. George Bush and Margaret Thatcher were keynote speakers.The highway from the airport was lined with Pepsi banners; hotel lobbies, grounds and vehicles were adorned with Pepsi signage, and golf courses sported inflatable soft-drink cans.Roberts Hawaii, Pepsi's ground transportation company, wrapped 23 motorcoaches in vinyl, representing Pepsi products. The 1,241-room Hilton Waikoloa Village, the coast's largest hotel and the gathering's headquarters, installed a pavilion tent, covering almost two acres, for the entertainment. "Pepsi put the destination on the map," said Vicky Kometani, the Hilton's marketing director. We have the experience and have shown we can do it. Kohala can be a convention center without walls," she said.Other groups also have used a number of hotels.In May, the candle company PartyLite flew in 2,600 sales people for a 25th anniversary event. This was followed by a group of more than 1,500 customers of PlaceMakers, a New Zealand distributor of wood, masonry and hardware products.Also this year, Kohala's group business has included Nike, Chevrolet, Compuware, MCI and Sony.Kometani said hotels started joint efforts to attract larger groups several years ago. She explained, "As a hotel, we realized that to be successful in the meetings market, we would have to sell the destination first. We do not have an identity like Waikiki. There is power in joining together."Through membership in the Big Island Group, an advertising and marketing organization, Kohala has placed ads in meetings magazines that appear next to those of Waikiki's Hawaii Convention Center, which officially opened in July."We're not just a pre- and post-convention destination," said Thos Rohr, KKRA president. "We have the facilities to handle meetings of all sizes and the airport to handle all arrivals, especially international flights."The Big Island is the only neighbor island that can handle fully loaded, wide-bodied takeoffs. In late 1993, Kona Airport's runway was extended from 6,500 feet to 11,000 feet. In June 1996, Japan Airlines started nonstop Narita-Kona service with three flights a week, and increased to daily service last November; and the same month, United augmented its daily San Francisco-Kona service with a daily Los Angeles-Kona flight. Consequently, this year the island is enjoying double-digit eastbound visitor increases, while Hawaii's Asian markets and seats from Asia plummet.The Big Island is also leading the islands in visitor growth from North America.Although statewide hotel occupancies declined, Kohala managed a 2.5 percentage point occupancy increase, to 71.8%, for the first seven months of the year, according PKF-Hawaii, a CPA and management consultancy firm. Also during the period, Kohala properties increased their average room rate 8.7%, to $215.34, compared with last year's first seven months.The Kohala Coast's eight hotels have a total of 530,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space. Kohala has seven championship golf courses and 66 tennis courts. Activities include sailing; scuba; deep-sea fishing; sightseeing and helicopter tours; hiking and jogging trails, and horseback riding.Kona Kohala Resort AssociationPhone: (800) 318-3637Fax: (808) 886-1044Web: planet-hawaii.com/kohala-coastHotel space not a problem on Big IslandKOHALA--The Kohala Coast has Hawaii's largest concentration of luxury hotels.Resorts and properties--all north of Kona Airport--are:The 1,800-acre Mauna Kea Resort.Its 310-room Mauna Kea Beach Hotel reopened in December 1995 following a $35 million renovation. The 350-room Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel opened in 1994.The 3,200-acre Mauna Lani Resort. The 350-room Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows reopened Aug. 1 last year after a $10 million renovation. The Orchid at Mauna Lani, with 540 rooms, completed a $10 million renovation in 1996. Sheraton became the operator in March 1996 following the hotel's purchase. Formerly the Ritz-Carlton Mauna Lani, it is a Sheraton Luxury Collection property.The 500-acre Waikoloa Beach Resort. The 1,241-room Hilton Waikoloa Village has the coast's largest meeting facilities, including a ballroom that holds up to 2,800 people. More than $30 million has been spent on renovations since 1993, when the former Hyatt Regency Waikoloa was purchased and Hilton became operator. In September, the 545-room Royal Waikoloan Hotel, the only moderate-category hotel on the coast, was purchased by Outrigger Enterprises, parent of Outrigger Hotels & Resorts. A $20 million renovation is planned.North Kona. The 243-room Four Seasons Resort Hualalai opened in 1996, part of the 700-acre Hualalai Resort. Nearby Kona Village Resort completed an $8 million renovation in 1996.