The Kaanapali Beach Hotel, looking to make the most of its shutdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, has expanded renovation work that was planned prior to coronavirus-related travel restrictions that effectively closed the Aloha State tourism industry.
The Kealaula property enhancement project broke ground in April but had been planned well prior. Initially, one wing of rooms was slated for renovation, but now two of the property's three wings will be revamped in the $75 million initiative.
The work is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2020 and includes both the 180-room Kauai wing and 84-room Lanai wing, representing 61% of the total rooms. Additionally, the project includes the launch of a new oceanfront restaurant, Huihui.
Amid the construction, director of sales and marketing John White and other hotel staff have been busy sharing updates and information and preparing for an as yet undetermined reopening date.
White's team is fielding inquiries from guests, travel advisors, whole travel vendors and others and is using webinars, email blasts and phone calls to make sure the message is getting out.
More than three out of every four Hawaii visitors have previously traveled to the Islands, which means Aloha State properties are motivated to update their offerings on a regular basis.
"People want to ask questions, and we have a very different message for Maui than Oahu does," White said. "Oahu has had a big uptick in infections the last 30 days, while Maui has not seen the same numbers, and we want to provide direct information to advisors and other industry partners about both the hotel and Maui in general."
One priority is making sure prospective guests know that when the Kaanapali Beach Hotel does reopen, there will be new rooms, dining options and programming. The term chosen for the project, Kealaula, refers to the golden hour of early dawn and near sunset when the sky is at its most colorful and is meant to signify the ongoing cycle of renewal and change. The room renovation includes making the accommodations lighter and brighter as well more technologically up to date, with improvements such as additional power outlets. Each room will include makamae, or "precious things," replicas of traditional Hawaiian tools and items of cultural significance, such as weapons, different versions of lei, and fishhooks.
Huihui, a 5,000-square-foot space with open-air, oceanside tables, will be the new signature restaurant for the hotel. It will serve a modern take on Hawaiian cuisine, and the decor will include items from the hotel's collection of paddling and sailing canoes.
While the actual construction plans for the restaurant have not changed due to the pandemic, the property is preparing for social distancing measures upon reopening, White said. The typical brunch set-up, with diners moving between stations to pick their own food, will be replaced with table service and a la carte options. During the shutdown, the property, including all rooms, received a deep cleaning. New health and safety protocols have been developed and will be updated regularly as advice from state and federal officials is released.
For cultural activities such as lei making and ukulele lessons, the hotel is planning to offer more sessions so they can keep group sizes small to facilitate distancing. They are also at work developing a new sailing program.
White and other Kaanapali Beach Hotel staff have also joined groups of businesses and organizations on Maui working to safely bring back tourism by establishing baseline health and safety standards and other measures.
With everything going on, dates and policies changing sometimes week to week, and different regulations and information for each island, White says the role of travel advisors has never been more important.
"They are absolutely vital to providing that health safety confidence for their guests, recommending a place, a city or town and communicating what's happening there," he said.
White said they are taking a "wait and see" approach on reopening as Hawaii is still in the process of working out a system for testing visitors prior to their arrival to the islands and Oahu has struggled to reduce its coronavirus infection rate since mid-July.
"One benefit of Hawaii waiting a little while longer to reopen while having protocols in place is we get the benefit of learning from others, like Manhattan or Las Vegas, as they welcome back tourists. From watching these other places we can improve our own protocols and make it as safe as possible."