The island of Lanai, home to about 3,000 residents and two luxury resort properties, generated another round of local headlines late last week with the news that Pineapple Isle native and tourism industry veteran Kurt Matsumoto will take over as the COO of Lanai Resorts Inc. early next month.
The company is responsible for overseeing the 97% of Lanai purchased by billionaire Oracle founder Larry Ellison in June for a reported $500 million, including the two resorts, the Four Seasons Lanai, the Lodge at Koele, and the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay; two 18-hole golf courses; several luxury home developments; and the island’s utilities.
Born and raised on Lanai, Matsumoto was in charge of the island’s Lodge at Koele and Manele Bay hotels from 1991 through 2001, prior to their rebranding as Four Seasons properties, when he served as vice president of resorts and administration for Lanai Co. Inc. He also spent time in tourism industry positions on the U.S. mainland and in the Caribbean and worked as general manager of the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows on the Big Island of Hawaii.
“I’m honored to join Lanai Resorts,” said Matsumoto, who will leave his current position as general manager of the Club at Kukuiula on Kauai Dec. 1. “Lanai is my home. I never imagined I’d get an opportunity like this. It’s a blessing for Lanai to have someone like Larry Ellison come in with a great appreciation for the island as well as the willingness to work with the community.”
Alberta De Jetley, longtime Pineapple Isle resident and editor of the monthly newspaper Lanai Today, said Matsumoto is “very loved and respected on this island” and shared the new COO’s sentiments about Ellison.
“In every community there are a few people who are going to be opposed to whatever is happening,” she explained. “But I would say that the vast majority of the population is very, very happy with this sale. …Having one owner with the resources to make Lanai what it can be is really, really exciting.”
Choosing Matsumoto, a respected resort industry pro with deep Lanai roots, to help shape the island’s future is just one of several positive decisions Ellison has made in recent months, according to De Jetley, including improvements to Lanai City landscaping, parks and completing deferred maintenance on buildings and homes belonging to the island’s previous owner, Castle & Cooke, and its billionaire CEO, David Murdock.
Those ongoing and scheduled upgrades have resulted in all sorts of new jobs for Lanai residents.
“This week alone, there are more than 100 job openings on the island,” De Jetley said. “It’s just a total overall beautification of the community and the resorts. There are construction jobs, landscaping jobs. …Even the hotels are looking for more and more employees.”
Tom Roelens, general manager of Four Seasons Resorts Lanai, was quick to point out that no dramatic renovations were currently taking place at his two properties but said some aesthetic enhancements to the resort’s public areas were completed this summer along with work on a new restaurant, Nobu Lanai, which is scheduled to open in December at Manele Bay.
“With the addition of Nobu Lanai as well as the other exceptional resort enhancements, Four Seasons has been actively adding leadership and line-level positions to our Lanai team,” Roelens confirmed via email. “The recent purchase of the island has captured the world’s attention and marks a truly exciting chapter for the island, community and for our two beautiful resorts.”
According to the most recent Hawaii Tourism Authority statistics, just over 57,000 visitors traveled to the island of Lanai through September of this year, off less than 1% from the same period in 2011, while visitor spending was up slightly, to $60 million.