Marriott's Fuller discusses firm's strategy, expansion plans

Travel Weekly Hawaii bureau chief Doug Oakley spoke with Marriott Lodging International president Ed Fuller, who responded to questions about Marriott's plans in the Hawaii market.

HONOLULU -- By the end of January, two Marriott hotels in Waikiki -- the Renaissance Ilikai Waikiki and the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort -- will have spent a combined $115 million in construction and rehabilitation.

Marriott has seven hotels on Oahu, Kauai and Maui, and plans to add more on Maui, Oahu and the Big Island.

Despite the rough times in the market, Marriott is pushing ahead with expansion plans for the state.

The Kauai Marriott Resort, above, was experiencing occupancy in the 80% range in November.Travel Weekly:How do Marriott's seven hotels in Hawaii fit into your company's overall revenue situation in terms of geographic markets?

Fuller: This market brings in about $150 million a year in hotel revenue, that is second only to Orlando.

You have to keep in mind that we have 15 different brands, and you have to remember we're talking about the leisure market.

TW:How has Marriott been doing in Hawaii since Sept. 11?

Fuller: On the outer islands [Maui and Kauai], our occupancies have been in the 80% range. We usually run in the high 80s, so we are off a bit.

In Waikiki, we're running about 30% at the Ilikai and 50% at the Waikiki Beach Marriott.

TW:Waikiki properties are hurting more because they rely heavily on Japanese travelers, who are staying away at the moment. What is your strategy to get business back up at your Waikiki properties?

Fuller: Our strategy is to try to shift to a more even mix [of Japanese and U.S. customers].

Before we took over those hotels, they were owned by Japanese firms and had a very heavy Japanese customer base.

We have experience repositioning a lot of hotels. At the JW Marriott [on Oahu], we had a dominant Japanese mix when we took over. Since then, we have grown the North American market, and our occupancy is rising there.

TW:So you plan to bring in more U.S. visitors to your hotels that previously were primarily marketed to Japanese. How do you plan to do that?

Fuller: Lots of advertising. We want more FITs from the West Coast to fill in where our packages leave holes.

We want to add wholesalers. We have added 11 West Coast wholesalers to the two Waikiki properties -- wholesalers that already sell our outer-island hotels.

We've got everyone on sales calls. We're even on TV game shows offering stays at our hotels as prizes. And we are tapping our Marriott Rewards program base. We'll have had 130,000 people come to Hawaii on that program in 2001.

TW:How do you feel about discounting?

Fuller: We will discount, but only where appropriate. When we reintroduce the two Waikiki properties at the end of January, we will discount.

TW:What's your overall market strategy in Hawaii?

Fuller: We want two Courtyard brand hotels in Hawaii. One already has been announced for Maui, and we'd like one on Oahu. We want a Renaissance on every island, a Marriott on every island and Courtyards where appropriate.

TW:How has the current situation -- war and the prospect of terrorism -- affected your customers?

Fuller: Right now, more than ever, people need leisure. They need a break. The only real issue is they have to fly to get here.

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