After sitting on the market for three years and weathering a summer filled with natural disasters, the Kilauea Lodge in Hawaii Island's Volcano Village is eager to move forward, with the nearby national park reopened and plans for improvements in the works.
Previous owners Albert and Lorna Jeyte ran the 16-unit lodge since 1988 and put it up for sale in 2015. Highway West Vacations, a California operator of inns, lodges and recreational vehicle resorts near national parks on the mainland, completed its purchase of the property for approximately $4 million in June, in the middle of a tourism downturn.
The Island of Hawaii enjoyed record visitor numbers in 2017, and the trend continued at the start of 2018. At the end of April a series of strong earthquakes and eruptions from Kilauea Volcano began, and continued for several months. Additionally, Hurricane Lane hit the island in August, leading to flooding.
But Highway West Vacations went forward nonetheless and took over the property, which sits a few miles outside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The lodge was originally built as a YMCA camp in 1938, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. The main lodge features 12 guestrooms and a restaurant. There are an additional four cottages on the 5-acre parcel, and the purchase included adjacent parcels that could be used for expansion.
"I'm super optimistic about the direction the lodge is headed in," said general manager Janet Coney, who has worked at the property for 28 years. "I'm excited for a bit of change and some investment, and we have a plan to make some improvements and changes that will be done very tastefully and keep the character and feeling of the historic property."
Some minor improvements are already underway, Coney said, and bigger enhancements are on tap. The dining room received a fresh coat of paint and the kitchen equipment was upgraded, and there are plans to improve the lighting and other aspects of the restaurant.
"We are also planning on building a new lanai for outdoor restaurant seating," Coney said. "That will be absolutely fabulous in summer when it's a little warmer."
Modifications to the lodge are limited since it is a historic landmark, and one thing that is sure to stay intact is the International Fireplace of Friendship. When the building was first constructed and known as Camp Hale O Aloha, the staff sent letters to other YMCAs and rotaries around the world asking them to send back a little item representing their home. Today there are roughly 100 coins, stones and other trinkets embedded in the fireplace, and the 80th anniversary of the fireplace's dedication was celebrated in October.
The new owners also plan to add a collection of deluxe cottages that are expected to be built by the end of 2019.
"The plan for the deluxe cottages is that they will be set back from the rest of property somewhat and a bit more secluded," Coney said.
Now that Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is reopened and the island is enjoying some of its best weather all year, Coney feels momentum is on their side again.
"Since the reopening of the national park, reservations have started to pick back up. Maybe it's not as fast as we would like, but it's coming back," Coney said. "We're very optimistic that things will return to the previous levels."