During a retirement celebration for Keith Vieira late last month at the Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort in Waikiki, the longtime Starwood Hawaii executive introduced the men who’ll take over for him this November after 33 years with the company.
Harris Chan, who served most recently as Starwood’s vice president of operations for China, will transition into the Pacific as Starwood’s new vice president of operations for Hawaii and French Polynesia. And Kelly Sanders, the general manager at the Sheraton Waikiki, has been named area managing director of Starwood Waikiki, where the company manages four properties and 4,500 guestrooms.
“It’s going to take two of us to fill Keith’s shoes,” Sanders said.
The G.M. at the Sheraton Waikiki for seven years, Sanders said he’s still learning the ropes of his new position but took a little time away from that process to discuss the state’s most popular visitor destination.
“So far this year demand for Waikiki has been really, really strong, stronger than I think any of us really thought,” he said. “And it was a very, very busy summer for the market.”
Sanders said international demand continues to look good for Waikiki the rest of this year, but the same isn’t true from the U.S. mainland.
“The fall seems to be softening a little bit from the U.S.,” he said. “And I think it’s primarily due to air costs. So far the air rates are still very high compared to where they are normally in the fall.”
If those rates drop some, Sanders said he expects mainland demand to improve through the rest of this year, but he isn’t forecasting much growth from the market in 2014.
“We’re not really seeing any growth in U.S. air seats next year,” he said. “There was some thought that a low-cost carrier may be entering the Hawaiian market, but that’s not happened. So we don’t expect to have much growth and to essentially be flat from the U.S. mainland next year in terms of arrivals.”
That lack of growth certainly doesn’t seem to have dampened Starwood’s expansion plans for Waikiki. According to Sanders, the company hopes to finalize project details this October for a dramatic renovation to the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, where work could begin as soon as next summer.
“Our goal is to close that hotel and tear down the two old wings, the Princess wing and Kaiulani wing,” he said. “Then we’d renovate and reposition the Ainahau tower and also build a brand new beautiful hotel right next to it. So we would have two branded properties right next to each other that would anchor Waikiki.”
Vieira revealed earlier this spring the St. Regis brand was being considered for the renovated property.
“It’s not finalized yet,” Sanders reported. “But our goal is to have the first St. Regis in Waikiki go into that space.”