Marriott making its presence known on Oahu

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arriott is making major moves in Hawaii. The "Big M," as one Hawaii hotel executive put it, has gone from zero hotel rooms on Oahu less than two years ago to 2,477 rooms today under three brand names.

In addition, Marriott recently broke ground on a 752-unit time-share project on Oahu.

The hotel firm's three Oahu properties -- the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina, the Renaissance Ilikai Waikiki and the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort -- are in addition to four other hotels its has on Kauai and Maui.

Marriott's next conquests in Hawaii will be two Courtyard brand hotels -- one on Maui near the airport and one on Oahu -- and a luxury hotel on the Big Island, according to Stan Brown, vice president of the firm's Pacific Islands division.

"We'd like to have a full-service presence on the Big Island with a Renaissance, Ritz or a Marriott," said Brown.

In addition to hotels, Marriott has a time-share project under development on Oahu and Kauai, and one each completed on Kauai and Maui.

Marriott is still lagging behind other major players in the market, such as Outrigger, Starwood, Aston and Hilton, in terms of number of rooms in the state, but it is getting close and it has done so in just a couple of years.

Outrigger has 9,238 rooms in the state; Starwood, 7,400; Aston, 5,420; Hilton, 5,036, and Marriott, 4,118.

Marriott has been experiencing a major growth spurt in Hawaii during the last two years. Above, the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina. Marriott's growth in the state has earned the company a healthy dose of respect among those in the industry here.

"Marriott has been trying to grow in the market for 20 years, and I guess you could say good things come to those who wait," said Ron Gilligan of R.F. Gilligan Realty, a Honolulu-based hotel real estate broker and consultant.

Gilligan said Marriott is a force that other hotel companies in the state will have to deal with because it has a "cadre of institutional investors who will buy just about any hotel Marriott wants them to buy for Marriott to manage."

"Its access to capital far exceeds any other brand including Starwood and Hilton, and [Marriott] has its own in-house money to buy, renovate and resell a property so it can take back a management lease agreement," said Gilligan.

"The other hotel companies here have to worry not only about financial resources but about [Marriott's] marketing clout, as well," he added.

Perry Sorenson, chief operating officer of Outrigger Hotels, said Marriott's marketing influence will work to other hotel companies' advantage.

"I think [Marriott's] presence here is terrific," said Sorenson. "It has chosen to make a substantial investment here and that is a vote of confidence."

Sorenson said Marriott's presence will rub off on everyone who does business here because it "will be marketing its hotels and the destination."

Marriott's full-frontal assault on Hawaii is one not seen here in recent years.

"I think the biggest reaction among those in the industry has been to its swiftness and to the degree of penetration in the market," said Murray Towill, president of the Hawaii Hotel Association.

"It's been common knowledge in the industry that [Marriott] wanted an Oahu presence to balance its Maui and Kauai business, but we haven't seen rapid growth like this in the 10 years I've been in the hotel association."

According to Brown, the infiltration of Hawaii was in the works for years and will continue. "We've wanted representation on Oahu for years, but for a variety of reasons, the opportunities didn't come along.

"The assets became available, and we were able to franchise or purchase them ourselves."

Brown said Marriott upped the volume in Hawaii because the company has "grown significantly in Asia" and "we were underrepresented in Hawaii."

As consumers in Asia, Japan in particular, get to know the Marriott brands, they will look for them when they vacation in Hawaii, he said.

"We needed to have an Oahu base for the eastbound [Japanese] market, as well as for the westbound [U.S.] market, on a multi-island level," Brown said.

In the hotel department, Marriott's most recent move was putting its name on the third-largest hotel in the state, the 1,304-room former Hawaiian Regent, which it bought and renamed the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort earlier this year.

In May, the hotel started a $55 million renovation, which is expected to wrap up in mid-December.

Marriott also put its name on the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina on the west side of Oahu in November 1999 and the Renaissance Ilikai Waikiki in February 2000.

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