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Saturday, August 30, 2014         

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Pro Bowlers' playground

High-end residences and resorts get a lift as the NFL's all-star game returns to Hawaii

By Allison Schaefers

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Hawaii's luxury vacation rental and hotel market is getting an assist this week from Pro Bowlers like Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, who brought his family along to enjoy his seventh all-star game.

There's nothing like Pro Bowl weekend to fill Oahu's luxury rentals. Homes in Kahala, Lanikai beach houses and penthouses, suites and rooms with a view at Oahu's most luxurious hotels from the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa to Trump International Hotel & Tower Waikiki Beach Walk, and more, are housing NFL players, their families and friends, and the wealthy fans who come to see them. The nation's top athletes have said that they view Hawaii's big game as a reward for a job well done; however, their presence and the higher per-person, per-day visitor spending that goes along with it might bring greater rewards to the destination.

"My kids are loving it, my wife's loving it. It's a really good treat," said Witten, who is staying at the Ihilani with his family.

In 2009 the Pro Bowl brought 18,000 visitors to Hawaii, and they pumped more than $30 million in direct spending and taxes into the state's economy. Miami got the gain last year when the NFL moved the game there, breaking its 30-year streak in Hawaii.

"Some of the regular folks that always come here weren't here last year," said Annie Kwock, owner and principal broker at Trinity Properties LLC.

Kwock, whose firm rents 30 of Hawaii's toniest vacation properties with monthly rents ranging from $30,000 to $100,000, said the return of the Pro Bowl has been a boon for business.

"January is normally a little slow after the new year," she said. "It typically doesn't pick up again until February; however, this year we have some of the Pro Bowl folks in our properties. They often bring families or travel with several couples."

Marc Mariani, a Tennessee Titans rookie kick returner in his first Pro Bowl, said a large crowd, mostly from Montana, came with him to Hawaii.

"A lot of family and a lot of friends (are here)," Mariani said. "I think about a hundred of my crew are going to be here."

Group members, who are booked throughout Waikiki and at the Ihilani, are enjoying the destination, he said.

"They take care of us and I'm having a blast," he said.

The NFL bought out the 453-room Ihilani, whose rack rates range from $545 for a room to $7,000 for its best suites. More than 1,000 guests showed up to Thursday night's Fia Fia Show and fireworks, said Dan Banchiu, general manager of JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa.

"The Pro Bowl has been a great customer, utilizing all areas of our resort and our time-share neighbor, Marriott's Ko Olina Beach Club, from restaurants to spa and special events," Banchiu said. "Plus, the buzz they generate with football fans here and around the country has positive, long-lasting effects even after the game is over."

The Halekulani was one of Waikiki's luxury hotels to benefit from the Pro Bowl frenzy. The resort experienced an uptick in the number of rooms booked during the game, said Geoff Pearson, Halekulani's director of sales.

"Waikiki, in general, sees a boost in business, which benefits all the hotels. It's a time of year we look forward to," Pearson said.

The resort, whose nightly rack rates range from $470 for a room to $7,000 for a top suite this week, is favored by Pro Bowlers, celebrities and sports fans looking for refinement.

"Halekulani prides itself on gracious elegance, unparalleled quality and, particularly in the case of celebrities, discretion and privacy," said General Manager Gerald Glennon. "We know how to anticipate a guest's needs even before they realize they have a need. This makes us a popular choice for all people accustomed to a certain level of high service standards, celebrities included."

Similarly, the Pro Bowl has helped Ohana Beach Rentals Hawaii sell out, said Amber Vega, creative director/media contact for Ohana Beach Rentals Hawaii.

"We don't have anything (left) until March," Vega said.

The company recently checked Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and family into a luxury estate that will become the unofficial headquarters for his 10th straight Pro Bowl. It also manages high-end properties for celebrities like Beyonce, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Johnny Depp and, like Kwock, has access to Glenn Weinberg's $24,500-a-week Kailua estate where President Barack Obama and his entourage have wintered, Vega said.

"Celebrity business grows most by word of mouth," she said. "These clients are looking for unique properties, exclusivity and discretion. When one of them comes to Hawaii and enjoys their stay, they share referrals with friends, and others come our way."

The celebrity factor also raises demand for a particular property and for Hawaii, Kwock said.

"It's a status thing," she said. "People like to vacation where the stars have stayed."

When Hawaii becomes the playground of celebrities and stargazers, luxury contractors who offer add-ons such as transportation, housekeeping, event planning, concierge services and fine dining also benefit.

Sous-chef Kanani Lincoln, the newest member of Chef Peter Foster's team at Memoirs, was hired to accommodate last-minute culinary requests from celebrities staying at properties booked by Ohana Beach Rentals Hawaii.

"A lot of people make their living subcontracting in a variety of services for celebrity clients, Lincoln said.

Since it is more difficult for celebrities to dine out, Memoirs tries to re-create a five-star dining experience at their rental estates, he said.

The company, which experienced about 30 percent growth over the past six to eight months, has started strong this year as a result of events like the Pro Bowl, he said.

Other local businesses have benefited from the success, too, Lincoln said.

"We use many foods that are grown locally," he said.

Greens from Nalo Farms on Oahu, local beef from Kealia Ranch on the Big Island's Kona Coast and goods from Hilo supplier Kulana Foods Ltd. often wind up on celebrity menus, Lincoln said.

Hawaii's activities and attractions, as well as shopping centers and food/beverage and entertainment venues, also gain, Kwock said.

"One of our guests is having a big celebration in his honor at a nightclub in Aiea," she said. "Many have guests and have ordered catering. Some are renting luxury cars or ordering limo service, and others are making plans to go golfing or take whale-watching or snorkel cruises."

Michelle Witten, who is married to Pro Bowler Jason Witten, said she and the kids enjoyed whale watching, getting lei and Paradise Cove's luau.

"It was awesome," Witten said. "We are definitely glad to be back in Hawaii."

Star-Advertiser reporter Jason Kaneshiro contributed to this report.

 

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