Royal Kona Resort saw opportunity in Covid shutdown

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The Royal Kona Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii is wrapping up a renovation that updated the rooms, pool deck and other areas.
The Royal Kona Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii is wrapping up a renovation that updated the rooms, pool deck and other areas.

Things were buzzing at the Royal Kona Resort during a seventh-month pandemic shutdown, as planned upgrades and renovations continued on an accelerated schedule.

Plans for the $15 million renovation were finalized in 2019 and kicked off last January. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit and the property was forced to close in March, the timeline for the work was sped up from 18 months to 12 months.

When the property on the west coast of Hawaii Island (also known as the Big Island) reopened on Oct. 15, the first guests were treated to a revamped pool area, refreshed rooms and other improvements, the first major renovation of the 54-year-old property since 2006. Most of the work is now complete, according to general manager Jay Rubenstein, with just a few final touches expected to be finished in the coming weeks.

"The rooms are just gorgeous," Rubenstein said. "They have all-new, custom-made furniture from Indonesia. It's not overly ostentatious but brings it back to a more modern, luxurious but casual feel. We're an older-school type of hotel. We're not a marble-and-glass palace, but I like to say we're style and class."

In addition to the new furnishing for the 428 guestrooms all with their own balcony, colorful natural fabrics were used in the design to help invoke more of a tropical feel. The oceanfront king rooms now feature marble wet bars complete with minirefrigerators and coffeemakers.

The pool deck was completely redone, as well. The old aluminum lounge chairs with vinyl straps are gone, replaced with all new teak lounge chairs and tables. There are new cabanas with day beds available for rent.

"It's a huge change from what it used to be," Rubenstein said.  "The furnishings are fantastic and comfortable, and we completely polished down the old plaster deck, and it's been replaced with a natural wood-stain deck.

Other enhancements completed during the closure include new carpeting and paint in the corridors, and in 2021 there are plans to install a rooftop solar-power system that is expected to generate 13% of the property's electricity.

In addition to the pool and spa, the resort also features four tennis courts; the Hawaii Pacific chapter of the U.S. Tennis Association will take over management of the venue starting in January. As part of the agreement, Albert Murata, who has been a U.S. Professional Tennis Association teaching pro since 1986, will take the role of director of tennis at the property, overseeing private lessons, clinics, junior programs and a retail store.

The Royal Kona Resort, home to the Don the Beachcomber restaurant and Don's Mai Tai Bar, is situated on the ocean in central Kailua-Kona town, and the property prides itself on being a gathering place, Rubenstein said. Its Thursday night Hawaiian music showcases draw crowds of more than 300, and the annual Mai Tai Festival is a highly anticipated event.

Currently, with all gatherings limited to 10 people or fewer due to Covid-19 protocols, concerts and luaus are on hold. The resort is planning to bring back the Mai Tai Festival in August.

"We want to continue to move forward and stay positive," Rubenstein said of reopening following the pandemic closure. "We're ready to welcome guests back and to provide a great experience. The resort is an icon in Kona and Hawaii."

Corrected: This report was updated to correctly attribute two statements made by Royal Kona Resort general manager Jay Rubenstein.

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