Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

Travelers planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii may want to consider spending more time on the Hilo side starting later this year.

Developers there are currently working on a $20 million renovation to the Hilo Naniloa Hotel and Golf Club and have announced the 388-room property will be rebranded as a DoubleTree by Hilton, the first major hotel flag to set up shop at the destination.

“Hilo really has a need for certainty of quality,” said Ed Bushor, president and CEO of Tower Development, the firm developing the Hilo Naniloa. “They haven’t had that there over the last 20 years, [and] the Hilton brand just gives the assurance that it has to be at the top level. They don’t put their name on just anything.”

The property will operate as the Naniloa DoubleTree by Hilton, and Bushor believes the brand name will motivate travelers to stay overnight more frequently in Hilo and spend more time exploring Big Island attractions easily accessed from the eastern side of the destination, including Mauna Kea, a nearly 14,000-foot extinct shield volcano, and Volcanoes National Park, which is only a 40-minute drive south of Hilo.

A rendering of the Naniloa DoubleTree by Hilton.
A rendering of the Naniloa DoubleTree by Hilton.

“With 1.3 million people visiting the [national park] each year, there will be a percentage that will now decide not to drive four hours in a day,” Bushor said, referring to the time it takes to drive roundtrip to the national park from accommodations on the Kona side of the island. “And they will elect to stay in Hilo, if there is a quality hotel there.”

The Hilo Naniloa will remain open during the renovation and continue under Aqua Hospitality management following the rebranding. Bushor said the first updated rooms will be available to travelers this fall.

“The lobby and Hilton-quality rooms will come online in the third or fourth quarter of this year,” he explained. “By the first quarter of next year, 90% of everything will be done.”

According to Bushor, other upgrades will include a full-service national chain restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with a new bar, grill and concert venue operating in partnership with well-known local musician Willie K. The hotel will also feature an improved conference facility.  

“There’s a lot of business now that’s being missed, because there isn’t a hotel in Hilo that can supply that conference center,” Bushor said. “We’re going to have 10,000 square feet of conferencing space right on the water.”

Of course, the property’s main draw — stunning views of Hilo Harbor and nearby Mauna Kea — will remain a key selling point.

“It’s the most spectacular view of the volcano in the morning,” Bushor said. “No other hotel on the island has a view like we do of Mauna Kea, [and] it’s not like you have to get out of bed to see it. That’s what’s spectacular about it.”

Repeatedly describing the new property as a boutique experience, Bushor added that the ownership also wants to make sure the hotel offers guests meaningful exposure to the Hawaiian culture.

“We’re going to create museum pieces and art pieces throughout the hotel,” he said. “So that you can gain a Hawaii experience and a cultural sense through the music, hula, artifacts and memorabilia, [because] we really want people to be able to touch and feel Hawaii through our hotel.”

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