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Top tourist site getting upgrade

  • COURTESY POLYNESIAN CULTURAL CENTER
    A rendering shows an overview of the plans for the Polynesian Cultural Center's makeover. The market place will be expanded outward, offering more shops and a wider variety of goods. It will be accessible to the public for free.
  • COURTESY POLYNESIAN CULTURAL CENTER
    Ongoing work in the Polynesian Cultural Center's restaurant area. The Gateway and Ambassador buffets will reopen in late summer with greatly expanded capacity, an estimated combined size of 24,400 square feet.
  • COURTESY POLYNESIAN CULTURAL CENTER
    This rendering shows the Polynesian Cultural Center's plan to expand its Polynesian Market Place. The retail center will offer a wider variety of goods from throughout Polynesia, including an ukulele factory, Polynesian handicrafts, fresh island fruits and vegetables, and other Polynesian cuisine.
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A $38 million, five-year plan to refresh the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie is expected to lure both new and return visitors to the state’s No. 1 paid attraction.

The sweeping project, already under way, will culminate with new and upgraded activities, an expanded restaurant and broader retail experiences.

The Polynesian Cultural Center, which unveiled Friday the scope of its transformation, expects to attract more than 700,000 visitors this year, up from 692,000 a year ago when it generated $58 million in revenue. But despite its popularity, it is an aging attraction in a so-called mature destination: Hawaii.

"We’re just dealing with the same issues that everyone else is" within Hawaii’s visitor industry, said Alfred Grace, PCC chief operating officer.

A NEW LOOK

Some of the highlights of the Polynesian Cultural Center’s $38 million, five-year renovation:

» New "Go Native!" activities such as Te Here, re-enactments of an ancient Tahitian wedding ceremony that will begin in July; outrigger canoe paddling through the lagoon; pareu (sarong) dying; and spear throwing. Four new activities already available are cooking demos, umu (Samoan above-ground oven) making, Hawaiian quilt making and climbing coconut trees.

» Reopening of the Marquesas exhibit in June

» New business-to-business booking system to simplifying bookings for travel agents

» Reopening of the Gateway and Ambassador buffets in summer with expanded capacity of 24,400 square feet and authentic food from PCC’s six island villages and throughout the Pacific

» Redesign of the exterior and interior of the Hukilau Theater with a new "Hawaiian Journey" experience by spring 2012

» Major expansion of Polynesian Market Place by summer 2012 with a wider variety of goods. Admission will be free to the public.

 

BY THE NUMBERS

The Polynesian Cultural Center is the state’s No. 1 paid visitor attraction:

$58M
2010 revenue

692,000
2010 visitor count

700,000+
2011 projected count

 

Somewhere around 65 percent of Hawaii’s visitors are repeat visitors, he said, with some having been here five or six times.

"All of our research shows people love PCC and highly recommend it, but the reality is, very few of them choose to come back when they’re in Hawaii," Grace said.

Hence, the need to lure back visitors who had previously experienced the 42-acre expanse — and to give all visitors more to see and do.

PCC already is giving visitors new activity choices, including Polynesian cooking demonstrations; umu making, or creation of a Samoan-style, above-ground oven; climbing coconut trees; and Hawaiian quilt making. PCC visitors have long seen the Hawaiian, in-ground imu cooking technique.

The four new activities already available are part of the center’s new "Go Native!" offerings, to which four more will be added during the course of this year. When added, visitors will see Te Here, re-enactments of an ancient Tahitian wedding ceremony. They also will be able to try their hand at pareu (sarong) dying; paddle newly made outrigger canoes, and race them if they so choose, in the PCC lagoon; and try to spear a coconut atop a 6-foot pole in an upcoming spear-throwing activity.

The project is "the first of several growth phases for PCC," Grace said, a reference to overarching plans to redevelop large portions of Laie. "We’re going through the process to try and make it work for everyone."

This five-year plan, however, pertains only to the visitor attraction and is "the first step in a multistep growth plan to help us get back over the million-visitor mark." The center logged 1.25 million visitors in 1979, when there were no direct mainland-to-neighbor island flights and Oahu attractions’ visitor counts were high.

Visitor destinations are now "fishing in a relatively small fishing pond called first-time visitors, but there’s a huge fishing pond of repeat visitors and they’re difficult to catch because they don’t bite on the same bait, you need to have different bait on the hook," Grace said.

As part of its renovation, the Polynesian Cultural Center will reopen its Marquesas Islands exhibit next month after nearly a year of renovating the 5,000-square-foot area. It will offer the option of private event bookings.

A TicketSage business-to-business booking system is undergoing final testing and is planned to start operating in July. The system is geared toward simplifying reservation bookings for travel agents and eliminating the need for them to make calls to the general call center or work through a wholesaler. PCC officials say participation with TicketSage will make the center more accessible to mainland travel and tour agencies and will increase reservations accuracy.

The Gateway and Ambassador buffets, now closed for renovation, will reopen in late summer with expanded capacity of 24,400 square feet within the 27,000-square-foot building. The restaurants will serve authentic foods representing the center’s six island villages and from islands throughout the Pacific. Diners will eat amid ambience enhanced by "$3 million to $4 million worth of ‘wow’ factor," Grace said, including columns with the appearance of huge logs holding up the roof and 25-foot-high murals depicting Hawaiian life and people arriving in Hawaii. Diners are presently being accommodated in three luau facilities which seat 600, 450 and 250 people, respectively.

The interior and exterior of the Hukilau Theater will be renovated, and new digital projectors will offer visitors a "Hawaiian Journey" by spring 2012. The present IMAX theater setup is expected to close in the fall, Grace said, to make way for the modifications.

More than 34 million visitors have strolled through PCC since its founding in 1963, and admission and package prices paid have supported nearly 17,000 students attending Brigham Young University-Hawaii.

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