The Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, welcomed back guests on Nov. 15 to a property that has adapted in numerous ways to the Covid-19 pandemic and its accompanying restrictions.
The beachside Maui resort shuttered at the start of the pandemic in March, when Hawaii instituted a mandatory two-week quarantine for everyone arriving to the Islands. That no-exceptions edict was lifted on Oct. 15 when the state launched its pretravel testing program.
While the Grand Wailea team was waiting for Hawaii to reopen to visitors, several new programs and measures were put in place, and managing director J.P. Oliver and his staff have spent the last seven months reimagining the guest experience and how the resort functions with local, federal and brand standards for health and safety in mind.
"It's definitely become a more bespoke experience, and I've been joking that we're now running the largest boutique operation in the world," Oliver said. "But we're really getting back to the fundamentals of tourism and hospitality. We want to take advantage of each day and provide engaging and educational experiences. In some ways the pandemic has allowed many of us who've been in hospitality for our entire careers to completely reinvent the experience from arrival to departure."
The resort has added a Wellness Ambassador, who helms an office where guests can pick up masks and other personal protective equipment, get their temperature checked and access other health resources. Additionally, the ambassador is working with all resort departments to ensure compliance with health and cleaning protocols.
Spa Grande treatments can be taken outside to a poolside cabana or reserved in the guest's room.
Spa Grande, the largest spa in the state at 50,000 square feet, is also reopening with social distancing in mind. Treatments can be taken outside to a poolside cabana or reserved in the guest's room. With a full rollout expected in 2021 and some features available currently, the spa's new Live Grande Wellness program features a la carte wellness experiences, events and workshops with visiting practitioners, and one- to three-day retreats. The Live Grande menu includes energy treatments such as reiki, healing arts like reflexology and cupping, nutrition sessions, mindfulness lessons and metaphysical sessions, including birth and wedding charts and natal readings.
To make social distancing and managing the property easier, Grand Wailea is currently operating just 400 of its 756 rooms and taking other measures to provide plenty of space for guests to enjoy their stay.
"We were running at literally 95% for the last four years, and we expect demand to be softer as we reopen," Oliver said. "We plan to open our restaurants in a phased approach, starting with two restaurants plus room service and then opening the rest in phases as occupancy builds. Along the same lines we have six of 12 shops open, but guests can book personal shopping experiences for any shops, including those that are closed, and can also use our virtual shopping guide and have items dropped off at their rooms."
Oliver said in some ways the pandemic has been a boost for getting guests to adopt new technology that was previously catching on at a much slower rate, such as QR codes that enable them to download things such as restaurant menus, spa services and general resort information directly to their smartphones.
"We had all these elements in place, like the virtual concierge service, before the pandemic, but people were not really buying in," he said. "People are creatures of habit, but now they are buying into a lot of these processes that we're promoting, and that's really changing how we can streamline communication and services."
Some of the rooms that are not currently in use have been reappropriated for services that are in particular demand during the pandemic. A few rooms were completely redone as private "gym pods" with Peloton stationary bikes, treadmills, free weights and other equipment. Each one can be reserved for a private workout or an individual session with a trainer, and the resort is leaving 90 minutes between each booking for full cleaning and sanitization.
"One thing we've heard is that people right now don't want to be around other people sweating it out in a big, indoor gym," Oliver said. "We also have 43 beautiful acres to take advantage of, and we are looking to take programs outside using our garden spaces, luau grounds and other areas to make a bootcamp area and hold other activities."
Grand Wailea is also rolling out new services for guests who are taking advantage of work-from-home flexibility to take their office on the road and children attending school via the internet.
The Grand Wailea team has spent the last seven months reimagining the guest experience and how the resort functions with local, federal and brand standards for health and safety in mind.
Guests can request a room or area at the hotel with their own workstation, including a monitor, conferencing equipment and other supplies. Grand Wailea also offers IT support, desks, school supplies and on-demand tutors for students. The tutors are an included amenity, and Oliver said he was overwhelmed by the level of interest from the community of Maui teachers.
"We haven't gotten a lot of folks yet who want to come to Hawaii to work, but homeschooling has been coming up, and I think the pandemic is really changing the way people are traveling," he said.
In a typical year, according to Oliver, the two weeks after Thanksgiving are very slow, and then the holiday season ramps up; the final two weeks of the year, he added, are extremely busy. Now, he has seen demand through December even out as guests and their children have more flexibility to take their responsibilities on the road.
"Any hotel or resort where the staff is engaged feels like a living, breathing entity," Oliver said. "There's a feel to it, an energy created by the people. It's not about bricks and mortar, it's about engagement and creating experiences. I don't want to sound hokey, but that's why I'm in it. I can't wait for those interactions with guests again."