The movie “Snatched,” which premieres Mother’s Day weekend, features a scene in which Goldie Hawn rubs suntan lotion on Amy Schumer, who is sunning at the adult pool at the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina.
While the two Hollywood stars are featured, the scene stealer is the pool’s aquamarine water blending into the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean and the Waianae Mountains.
“People are going to watch that scene and say, ‘Where is that pool?’ and Google it. When they find out that it’s at the Four Seasons Resort Oahu Ko Olina, it will generate even more buzz for a destination that is just coming into its own,” said David M. Gelezinsky, president of New York-based Land and Sea Adventures, who included West Oahu for the first time in a scouting trip of Hawaii’s top destinations to bring incentive travelers. “New Yorkers are very demanding people. If they are going to fly 10 hours, they want to fly into luxury. What they sought wasn’t on Oahu before, but it is now. Waikiki is Fort Lauderdale. Ko Olina is Palm Beach.”
Recent and planned additions to the 642-acre Ko Olina Resort have created a critical mass for West Oahu tourism.
The opening of Disney’s Aulani Resort in 2011 and the Four Seasons, which celebrates its first anniversary May 27, has allowed new businesses to relocate to West Oahu and established businesses to grow. A $2 billion megaresort planned by Atlantis will add another 800 hotel rooms and 524 residences to the 1,992 already in Ko Olina.
Waikiki, with roughly 30,000 hotel and condo units, remains the most visited destination in the isles and the center of the state’s GDP. But Ko Olina is making inroads.
At full build-out, Ko Olina was originally envisioned to reach at least 4,000 hotel rooms and 5,000 resort and residential condominiums — that’s more comparable to Maui’s top resort district, Wailea, than Waikiki, said Hospitality Advisors President and CEO Joseph Toy. But in November, Ko Olina master developer Jeff Stone revealed a broader, $5 billion plan driven by China Oceanwide Holdings to nearly double the resort by connecting it to another 514 acres. Known as Kapolei West, that portion would add up to 2,500 mostly resort homes wrapping around a second golf course. The expansion would connect Ko Olina’s main Aliinui Drive with the adjacent Kapolei West site and go through to Kapolei Commons to make a resort rivaling Waikiki’s land mass.
Rates, revenue growing
With more than $500 million in renovations under its belt and a staff of 750 workers, Four Seasons has moved into the top-priced luxury destination on Oahu, said General Manager Sanjiv Hulugalle.
Largely because of Four Seasons, Oahu hotels outside of Waikiki had an average daily rate of $264.92 through February, which was 13 percent higher than the average rate paid by Oahu’s South Shore visitors, Toy said. While room rates in Waikiki grew 4 percent year over year through February, Four Seasons’ higher rates helped lift the rest of Oahu by more than 21 percent, he said.
Another sign that West Oahu is thriving is the fact that revenue per available room was nearly the same for Waikiki as it was for Oahu destinations outside of the tourist mecca, Toy said. Revenue per available room, which calculates the amount that a hotelier gets for each room in a property whether it’s rented or not, has long been considered by many hoteliers as the most telling performance measure.
“To make Ko Olina successful, it needed to be like Wailea, Maui, where a variety of hotels and resorts and other elements that are complementary and don’t cannibalize each other came together at the same time. That’s what we are finally seeing,” Toy said. “All the recent investments have been transformative, and there’s room for further growth.”
Ko Olina’s expansion is expected to bring even greater gains for West Oahu and Four Seasons, Hulugalle said
“Awareness of Ko Olina as an international luxury vacation destination is growing. We’re attracting celebs and CEOs, some of the Silicon Valley titans. Each resort will offer something unique,” Hulugalle said.
The success of Ko Olina’s expansion to date is one of the reasons Four Seasons plans to add a residential component behind the hotel in the next three to four years, Hulugalle said.
“We’re looking at close to 200 units, including residential and condotels. They’ll be two-, three- and four-bedroom units and a whole stack of penthouses,” he said. “With Kapolei West you’ll have different levels of housing and luxury homes. With more people coming in and wanting to vacation or live here, you’ll have greater options for activity providers and restaurants and shops.”
Charlie Longhi, owner of Longhi’s restaurant, said he doesn’t regret moving his longtime Ala Moana Center restaurant to Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club, which gets plenty of traffic from Ko Olina and West Oahu.
“When I got the opportunity to move it up here, how could I not? Just look at this view,” Longhi said from the inside of his open-air restaurant, which is flanked by palm trees and expansive water views. “It took me six years to make the move since a friend introduced me to this beautiful space, but we’re coming up on a year and so far it’s worked out great.”
Longhi’s longtime friend Peter Maharaj, group chairman of the Maharaja Group, is also a West Oahu investor, who credits Ko Olina with paving the way for other additions to West Oahu such as the new DeBartolo mall project, Ka Makana Alii, which relies on a mix of resident and visitor traffic.
The next phase of growth for Four Seasons is ramping up marketing and programming, Hulugalle said. Nani Kai Dive Academy has opened up, and there are three different tours with Kahumana Farms, a nearby organic farm and cafe, he said. The resort also has created expansion opportunities for other activity providers, caterers and event-services companies.
Hilo-headquartered Paradise Helicopters has been on Oahu since 2002, but it opened a second location in Kalaeloa two years ago in anticipation of growing west side tourism, said Chief Executive Officer Calvin Dorn. The impact of Four Seasons has doubled Paradise Helicopters’ Kalaeloa business and created a high-end incentive travel market, he said. With future growth in mind, it wants to add a $6 million VIP visitors lounge and aircraft maintenance facility to Kalaeloa Airport, he added.
“The whole Ko Olina area and Kapolei is just an amazing transformation from a closed area to ongoing business. JW Marriott Ihilani, which was there before Four Seasons, didn’t do a lot of tours,” Dorn said. “Our west side business has well increased since Four Seasons. We’d love to start our airport expansion plans in a year.”
Kalaeloa Airport has languished in getting developed, but Dorn expects facility investments will play a key role in the further development of high-end west side tourism.
Newly opened Coral Crater Adventure Park also received an unexpected business increase from Ko Olina’s incentive travelers. The uptick is partially fueling the need to add at least four more employees to the 17 already on board. It’s also created trickle-down gains for related vendors like surf schools, tent companies, caterers and freelance photographers.
“The Four Seasons is actually changing Oahu a bit because they handle incentive groups, which in the past gravitated toward the neighbor islands,” said Jim Owen, the park’s owner. “The destination management companies are telling me that this is a new and very welcome market for Oahu. It’s a great thing, absolutely.”